Are Engineering °s Required?
Kirt's Cogitations™ #222

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Engineering °s, Kirt's Cogitations #222 -  RF CafeAre Engineering °s Required?

Back in my days at defense contractor companies, first as a technician and then as an engineer, it was virtually unheard of for anyone with the title of "Engineer" to not have at least a Bachelor's degree in engineering or science. Only one instance, while at Westinghouse Oceanic Division (now Northrop Grumman) in Annapolis, Maryland, comes to mind. I suspect the requirement was dictated by the government, since many times (if not always), part of a proposal included submitting resumes for many of the key personnel who would be working on the project being bid upon. In the commercial realm, again, only one person that I can recall (at Comsat) had achieved the rank of engineer without a degree. Now, after working at a commercial communications IC design and manufacturing company for many years, I have yet to run into any "engineers" who do not have at least a BSEE degree. Is it because people with engineering degrees are so easy to come by that there is no need to even consider someone without the degree? Are there any non-degreed engineers remaining? If so, are they a dying breed that will not be replaced?

Probably you, and definitely I, have read of some very accomplished people who earned the title of "engineer" at The School of Hard Knocks rather than at an accredited engineering school. Since engineering as a college degree has only been around for a couple hundred years, referring to someone like Galileo Galilei or Isaac Newton as engineers is meaningless. Note: Those institutions that claim to be the first to offer degrees in civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, etc., are numerous according to Internet searches, so I will not mention any by name. That neither Michelangelo nor Leonardo da Vinci nor Thomas Edison nor Benjamin Franklin nor the Wright Brothers possessed formal college degrees did not prevent them from achieving great things. More contemporarily, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs none ever completed their college degrees. Contrary to what many believe, even Tesla's Elon Musk does not have an engineering degree.

Some people are of the opinion that the conferring of a professional title upon a person should be reserved for those would have followed an established line of ascendancy. They are sometimes referred to as Degree Snobs, mostly by those who do not have the requisite degrees. It is generally assumed that doctors, lawyers, nurses, and CPAs all possess certified college degrees, and many engineers believe that our profession is no different. Even having earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Technology (BSEET) degree is for most companies not good enough to qualify for the title of “Engineer” since the curriculum is not considered as rigorous theoretically as a true engineering degree, even though ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) certifies many of the schools that award them. Even the U.S. military maintains a distinction of the 4-year-degreed members versus those who do not by awarding Warrant Officer status to officers without 4-year degrees. There are of course exceptions in all cases, but they are very rare.

There evidently are still work-around methods for being granted the title of “engineer” without having earned a college degree. Many state licensing departments that grant the Professional Engineer (PE) designation allow for substitution of at least 20 years of experience in lieu of a college degree, plus the successful completion of the PE exam, plus recommendation by someone who currently holds a similar license. Some companies will readily fill engineering positions with personnel who hold only a 2-year degree and/or hands-on extensive military and/or commercial experience. This can be a stepping stone for jobs later in life that advertise the need for an engineering degree or relevant work experience. Federal, state, and local governments will often permit the substitution of vast amounts of work experience for a college degree.

While an electronics technician first in the USAF and then at Westinghouse (Annapolis, MD), I desperately wanted to be an engineer, and determined that for myself, the only way I would ever feel comfortable with being called an engineer was to earn the degree. I really never have looked down upon those who wear the title, but do not possess the sheepskin. Instead, my opinion about each "engineer" I have worked with has been formed based on job performance. There have been extremely bright people without degrees who are capable of doing the work of a Ph.D, while a few (very few, thankfully) PhDs have been deserving of serving his fellow engineers as a bench technician. Come to think of it I have known bench technicians more deserving of a Ph.D's job. Again, that is a rare instance. For the most part, those people who have been in their jobs for more than a few years are very well adapted to their positions. Most, thankfully, stop short of fulfilling the Peter Principle.

There are many people who, like me, began their careers in electronics, or mechanics, or physics, or mathematics, or name-a-profession, as technicians/underlings who have had the good fortune of working under the tutelage of one or more highly capable mentors that inspired them to go to trouble of earning a degree. Many (if not most) times the schooling is completed part-time over many years while working and providing for a family. I seem to meet new fellow travelers all the time, either at work or via e-mails from RF Café visitors. I like to say that I successfully crammed four years of engineering school into just eight years (that's how long it took). There were times when I truly never thought that I would live through it all. Years on end of night classes and day jobs took its toll physically and spiritually. Crazily, after completing my BSEE and landing a job at General Electric AESD in Utica, NY, I took a couple Masters classes, but was just too worn out by then to suffer through any more. Alas, my highest earned degree will remain forevermore the BSEE. Honorary Ph.Ds are welcome, however, if your institution wishes to bestow one (or more) upon me.



Posted January 23, 2023
(updated from original post on May 11, 2007)