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The story leads with the case of Mats Järlström who did some analysis on yellow light timing for traffic cameras and also mentions the cases of several other people (some of whom were critical of the Oregon government) who were fined or cited for stating they were engineers. Oregon’s criterion is whether someone is registered as an engineer in the state, not what their education is.


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    Oregon’s attitude is roughly analogous to Canada’s, where to call legally call oneself an “engineer” requires that one is accreted by the relevant provincial engineering society.

    Many companies (frequently those from the US or mimicking their uncontrolled use of engineer-as-title) have gotten in trouble over the years for using titles like “Software Engineer” to describe unaccredited developers or development positions.

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      Many states have laws like that. A person can’t build a bridge, for example, without being a certified engineer. Generally, though, the agencies in charge of it don’t really care unless a person is actually participating in activities that require certification. For example, if I say, “I’m a software engineer,” nobody will care unless I try to build a bridge or skyscraper or whatever.

      The controversy here isn’t accreditation, but that Oregon’s association is using the certification requirements to discredit and silence people who criticize their projects. They’re essentially claiming that merely talking about and using math or physics while discussing a project (or arguing against it) qualifies as unaccredited engineering and can be fined.

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        So… I should delete PolyBridge before going to Oregon, that’s what I’m hearing.

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        Many companies … have gotten in trouble

        Really? I see Software Engineer virtually everywhere, including my job title. I don’t like the term and call myself a developer, but people seem to love titles and “engineer” is “prestigious”. Which US companies have gotten in trouble for it and why?

        “Software Architect” is worse.

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          I personally know some software companies that needed to pull out their “Software Engineer” recruiting posting and replace them for “Software Developper” after it has come to the attention of the OIQ (Quebec Engineer Order) that most of those companies employees were not licensed engineer. Just look at Google posting anywhere in the US vs Montreal. For what’s it’s worth, licensed engineer must have a specific curriculum including physics that aren’t usually covered by computer science programs. So it’s pretty specific about what and who is an engineer.

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            In Canada? I rarely see “software engineer” myself.

            Microsoft got fined for offering MCSE in Canada.

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              I’m Canadian and am starting to see engineer more than developer, which is troubling to me because I don’t want to be fined for calling myself an engineer. On my resume I call myself a computer scientist.

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              I can sympathize with people who don’t want to be called an “engineer”, but “developer “is a more overloaded term (are you a photographer? are you building an apartment complex? etc.) so I prefer engineer to developer.

              Honestly, with all the frameworks floating out there I think we’re a trade profession and should be calling ourselves “programmers” (like a carpenter, or plumber, etc.) if we’re being honest with ourselves.

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                Sorry, I meant I call myself “software developer”. I also call myself a programmer.

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                Looking at the electronics industry, back where I worked in Texas things were setup such that engineers that didn’t have a Professional Engineering certification were titled “Member of Technical Staff”.

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              I like the idea of registered engineers, but it’s pretty obvious they’re abusing it to silence people.

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                I’ll add it could also be a racket in power or finance as usual with these political organizations. They get the power to enforce rules on other people. They then just go after whoever they feel like to put them in their place. This is quite common. In this article, we see people who should probably be engineers by default just because of credentials and work experience. Instead, they’re fining them for not adhering to state rules about describing what they’ve already proven themselves to be elsewhere.

                Edit: Remember this is also a state where pumping your own gas was illegal to preserve unnecessary jobs to get votes for politicians. One of just two. They’re really special, that government. ;)

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                  The fact that you do have the certification in another jurisdiction isn’t usually sufficient to actually practice everywhere, though if you’re merely commenting on public matters (as seems to be the case here) that can be different. So for me this would turn on whether he was just making a comment while also mentioning being an engineer, or “practicing engineering” in Oregon. Looks more like the former to me.

                  Not exclusive to engineering, also true of law, medicine, etc. If you’re a properly licensed Swedish doctor, you can still be breaking the law in the U.S. if you hold yourself out as a doctor and give medical advice, because a Swedish medical certification isn’t sufficient to practice medicine in the U.S. But yeah, not all uses of “I’m a doctor, and my opinion is…” would be illegal, e.g. in a letter to the editor on public policy matters.

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                  it’s pretty obvious they’re abusing it to silence people

                  Well yes, that’s how it works.

                  In this case, they’re being grumpy. I suspect that there’s more to the story (perhaps, say, the fellow ignored a previous request not to hold themselves out as an engineer without certification) than we’re being shown here, but they’re still being jerks.

                  Now, the problem here is that in this case, there really isn’t any damage to what amounts to watching lights and coming to some conclusions. But that’s not always the case.

                  We have professional engineers for the same reason we have trademarks: because the public must be able to trust that there is some base veracity that they’re getting what they’re paying for. Removing this ability and the processes behind it is a capital-B Bad Idea.

                  Sure, maybe web developers think it’s grossly unfair that they can’t be all hip as software engineers in Oregon without actually going through the paperwork and training, but those same folks are more than happy to require their homes to be built to code and for their bridges to be designed by a certified engineer and so forth.

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                    Well yes, that’s how it works.

                    It’s really not how it works. There’s a difference between engineering a system and merely observing and discussing it.

                    Watching stop lights and drawing conclusions in and of itself isn’t an engineering activity. By that logic every driver in Oregon would need to be a certified engineer or risk a fine.

                    Outside of this Oregon case, I think you’d be hard pressed to find other examples of engineering associations abusing their power like this.

                    I should point out that I’m assuming the people in the article aren’t using their engineer titles to make them seem more authoritative. If the guy is saying, “I’m an engineer, so I know this is designed poorly,” then I think the engineering association is probably right to fine him.

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                    Actually, that’s the only thing you can do when you create such a registration. It cannot be used for anything else than to discriminate against the people who do not have it.

                    I very much prefer the legislation where anyone who leads a client to believe they are an engineer or otherwise competent and then give them a bad advice is being held responsible for the damages than a variant where you explicitly forbid people to work without an official qualification. Well… unless we talk about bridges, electrical wiring and so on.

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                    It’s for the same reason someone can’t call themself a medical doctor.

                    My understanding is that in the US, many “engineering” jobs require a Professional Engineer (https://www.nspe.org/resources/licensure/what-pe). This is someone with a 4-year engineering degree, 2-years of work for another professional engineer, and passing an exam.

                    Typically a PE will work in areas related to public safety (bridges, power lines, etc). Claiming to be one of this type of engineer is what is getting these people in trouble in Oregon. Normally, you’d think that they would have to be calling themselves “professional engineers in discipline XXX”.

                    Then there are engineers, who have a 4-year “engineering degree”, but are not “professional”.

                    Then there are other engineers who have co-opted the title :) Like software engineers (at least before there where engineering degrees in computer science). I am not sure where train engineers fall.

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                      It’s for the same reason someone can’t call themself a medical doctor.

                      And that reason is to give professional organisation power to limit the supply of people who are allowed to practice a particular profession thus ensuring higher than market value for the labour of their members.

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                        Well, that’s the organization’s goal, certainly. That’s true for electricians, lawyers, doctors, etc. But society empowers them to do this for a different reason: average citizens contracting with highly specialized fields aren’t fully capable of making informed decisions, and thus market forces cannot efficiently operate. Bad actors could easily operate in the market, and have negative effects that could escalate to death or massive property destruction (a shoddy wiring job could start a fire that takes out a neighborhood).

                        Are these “guilds” the best solution to the problem? Perhaps not, but they’re certainly better than the market solution, which is basically what they evolved from anyway.

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                          I don’t think they’re obviously better than a market solution. I do think the deaths from high prices and lack of access to doctors are a lot less obvious than being killed by a quack though. Same with all the downsides that don’t kill you (bankruptcy, just dealing with chronic diseases rather than seeing a doctor).

                          I think you’d likely end up with something similar but more open. I know in the motorcycle world lots of people won’t buy helmets that haven’t passed testing by ECE or Snell (third party companies; edit: It looks like ECE is some european standard while snell is a 3rd party), in the ecig world juice companies display lab tests to show they don’t contain harmful ingredients they’re legally allowed to use, I think lab testing is common on silkroad, the supplement world has labdoor, etc.

                          I mean it might be better, but it’s not certainly intuitively better to me.

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                            I don’t think they’re obviously better than a market solution

                            I’m not weighing in on “better” or “worse”, but I would argue that you can’t have a fair market if all the participants in the market aren’t operating with equal knowledge. So to say that guilds aren’t better than a market solution is a non-statement: we don’t have a market solution.

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                            Also, taking a couple of the examples above

                            electricians - you can become certified by passing an exam. Very fair and democratic.
                            lawyers - also, you sit for an exam. Very fair and democratic.
                            doctors - This is bottle-necked by the supply of seats in medical colleges, but this is a difficult profession where bad actors result in death or disability. There is a valid argument (quality) for controlling the volume.
                            registered nurses - same as doctors.

                            You can argue that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to afford the education to become a lawyer, electrician, doctor etc., but that is a different socio-economic issue than registration.

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                              Engineers should be just as accountable just as electricians, lawyers, doctors, and nurses. Society depends on engineers to build bridges, devices, and websites. I am very much in favour of regulating the engineering profession.

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                                  Imagine a corresponding FAQ for doctors, “what makes a PD different from a doctor?”

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                          There is some risk, of course, of using the title software engineer. From the PE site above:

                          Now every state regulates the practice of engineering to ensure public safety by granting only Professional Engineers (PEs) the authority to sign and seal engineering plans and offer their services to the public.

                          You wanna be regulated by the state? Just keep using that title. :)

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                            Let’s hope they don’t share this in Oregon given California researchers probably don’t have a license there. They’ll say it’s exactly the kind of questionable claims they’re trying to protect the public from. They’d prefer a study by licensed engineers in Oregon funded by the state exclaiming the safety benefits of its traffic laws without undue attention to the economics. Then, perhaps reward that good work with government contracts or job openings. ;)