Now I’m a PE. Big Deal.

Yeah now I’m a PE, and big deal is right! Man, what a disappointment. Now before I go off on a rampage I need to put in a disclaimer of sorts. My articles about the problems in our profession seem to get some real interest but so far all I’ve done is complain, and for that I apologize. Sort of. Understand that my goal on this forum is NOT to just whine without ever providing a solution or suggestion, but I do think awareness is the best place to start, and in case you aren’t aware, engineering is closer to a trade than a profession and we need to band together, formulate a plan and change this. Nothing makes that more abundantly clear than the PE license which is supposed to be at the pinnacle of our careers. It’s important for civils and architecturals, I get that, and working in aerospace I didn’t expect a whole lot. After all, most aeros are not PEs because the FAA doesn’t recognize the license in the first place. Now I know why.

I need to choose my words carefully because the NCEES cops are out there looking for people who disclose details about their tests and a few licenses have been pulled for saying the wrong thing. So I’ll play it safe and just say the tests are a joke and that’s probably why the license is a joke. Yeah, here comes the trash talking. I was as nervous as anyone going in, and after being out of school for a mere thirty-five years I had a little brushing up to do. I never took the FE as an undergrad because I was fortunate to be recruited by an aerospace major in the height of the Regan era. So I took an FE refresher thru the School of PE which was very well done, and then took a PE review course with the Dr. Tom Classroom which was equally well done. I just cracked the books and said I was going to be a one-time test taker because I’m not going thru this twice. Simple.

The FE was actually harder because it covered way more material – thermo, differential equations, chemistry, materials, and on it goes. But I finished with time to spare. The test questions are amongst the easiest questions they can concoct within each discipline. So much was made about the ‘three minute’ budget, with 110 questions in a six hour time period. But what no one seems to mention is that if you can’t solve the problem in two minutes you probably can’t solve it two hours. After all, the only reference you’re allowed on the FE is an electronic copy of the NCEES Reference Manual (the hardcopy is in my dog’s kennel). My study tip for anyone taking the FE to get their PE: just do every problem in Lindberg’s book with no regard for time. You will then know the material adequately as his problems are far more difficult than anything you’ll find on the test. Knowing the ‘difficult’ material will make passing the test a given.

Now for the PE. Eighty questions in eight hours. Eighty of the most insulting, ridiculous, brain-dead questions anyone could possibly devise. Again, no specifics – sorry. But after I took the test I was able to remember all forty questions on the second half and about twenty from the first half. They don’t tell you what your score is if you pass, just that you passed, so I did a self-scoring exercise. I blew a few easy ones but am confident I scored in the high-eighties, low-nineties and can easily picture people getting a perfect score on the test. When did that EVER happen to you in college? I finished each four hour section in about three hours and was actually bored. Bear in mind I’m not some academic super genius – just an average guy with average grades from average schools.

So when do aeros analyzing flyable aircraft and mechanicals designing medical equipment and civils designing ten-story parking garages in California separate themselves from idiots who barely graduated? How about now? We can only implement major change in salaries by gaining respect from other professions and I’m more than willing to spearhead this effort if anyone is with me. Exactly how, is of course paramount. We’re problem solvers by nature and the biggest problem an engineer can ever face is right here in his own profession (or trade). This comes from a born engineer who is passionate about engineering, loves technology, loves working with brilliant people on incredible programs and wants nothing more than to elevate his own people. A delineation between terrible, no-so-good, damn good and elite engineers can be made, and if a company needs one, they will be forced to pay him accordingly.

Accomplishing this, I think, starts with credentials (it does in every other profession) and there is nothing more insulting than a PE license. After all, what does it really do? The ethics codes are ‘guidelines’, not laws and a licensed mechanical engineer can stamp an electrical plan for $100 but ‘the practice is not recommended’. I sometimes think being sued for professional negligence would be an honor. Your background is not verified by the state licensing agency which grants it, it’s just assumed to be accurate (mine is, I’m serious about this stuff) and reciprocity from one state to the next is done with a check for $150, usually without a second test. When you get your license is when you realize what a joke it really is. A 5 x 8 flimsy little piece of crap complete with perforated edges. Insulted yet?

Now are you guys ready to change this? Strikes, protests, boycotts, lobbies? Are you ready to get in front of NCEES and insist on difficult exams that we have to study for? And take. And pass. I’ve never done anything like this before but I’m open to ideas. I also may not be the best person to put in charge – I have minimal management experience, absolutely no political ties and of course no funding. Do you know of a better candidate, perhaps someone with name recognition and some pull in the industry? Do you know how to do this? If so let’s talk.

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