Kirt's Cogitations™ #222
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Cog·i·ta·tion [koj-i-tey'-shun] – noun: Concerted thought or
reflection; meditation; contemplation.
Kirt [kert] – proper noun: RF Cafe webmaster.
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
(now Northrop Grumman) 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, having worked 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
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.
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
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.
Please take a moment to make your opinion known in this
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