The rule of thumb in the newsroom used to be write an article about Linux if you want to get some mail.

It didn’t matter what sources said about the operating system, nor did it need to be contentious. Linux, you see, is one of those topics everyone seems to have an opinion about. And an

opinion they feel compelled to share by writing letters to the editor.

Articles about the use of the word engineer has been added to the list. (Follow this link Would the real engineers please stand up for summary of the issue.)

The debate has been on our radar since Memorial University of Newfoundland approved a specialty in software engineering as part of its bachelor of computer science degree in 1996. The rhetoric increased recently when Microsoft announced its intention to use the title Microsoft certified systems engineer.

Readers e-mailed us in near record numbers to point how foolish and difficult one of the parties is behaving. The following is a collection of some of the many letters we received.

I am a lay person. Here’s my argument in favour of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers:

If an engineer gave you an aircraft control box which had been designed according to Transport Canada specifications and Bill Gates gave you a similar (but sealed) control box designed according to Microsoft’s specifications (that you were not allowed to know) which one would you trust your life to if you hooked it up to your plane?

Secondly, would you rather have an MCSE (who also knows nothing about the contents of the box, just what the wires do) install the Microsoft box or the P. Eng. install the box about which everything is known? That’s the difference as I see it.

Sim Brigden

In Canada, “”engineer”” is, under legislation in all provinces and territories, a “”reserved”” word. It doesn’t matter that it can be used by anyone who chooses to in another country. The provincial and territorial associations are obligated under legislation to ensure that unqualified persons do not represent themselves as engineers and have been very patient in their efforts to educate the IT community. It seems to me that software developers have little hesitation in going to court to protect any words they consider “”reserved”” under copyright.

Robert J. Gowan

The issue between the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers and Microsoft is not about using a title, but about professional reputation for public accountability that has stood for decades. Microsoft and MSCE’s want the benefits of the “”engineer”” designation without the concomitant responsibility and accountability.

Professional engineers (or P.Eng.s) are only recognized as such if they register with their provincial governing associations. By registering, professional engineers agree to be held accountable for their actions to the association. Under this agreement, they can be reprimanded, suspended, and/or taken through civil litigation proceedings if they do not practice their profession with a minimum of due care and attention to public well-being and safety, as determined by the association. Reprimands and other reparations are issued to the public record for all to see. If the provincial associations do not effectively self-regulate their members in the protection of the public, the government has the mandate to take back the regulatory function.

Yet when Microsoft arbitrarily confers the designation “”engineer”” on its course graduates, with no legal authority to do so (in Canada, at least), their size and financial clout encourages many (some of whom stand to benefit personally) to demand that the poaching be allowed. For Microsoft to OK the designation of engineer for its graduates is the height of imperial arrogance — the approval is not Microsoft’s to give in this country.

No one doubts that those who have achieved MSCE status have earned a right to high reputation as skilled software designers and builders, system maintainers, and network administrators. If they really want the engineer designation for their graduates, Microsoft should be chatting up the Engineering Colleges Accreditation Board. Just because they sell a lot of software doesn’t give them the right to appropriate whatever professional designation they want.

Rod Hutson

I think the reason for barring MCSE holders from using the word engineer is summed up by Gary Jones’ comment, “”Engineer holds more weight.”” It sure does – for those of us who have obtained a four-year engineering degree and an additional four years of work experience to gain the legal right to use the title. MCSEs are not engineers and should accept that fact or risk the consequences.

Richard A. Selin

The fact that the CCPE is focusing on the MSCE would prompt me to ask why they are not also expending the same amount of energy on sanitation engineers, power engineers, broadcast engineers, sound engineers.

I will be graduating with my ME but am almost embarrassed to tell anyone.

Bruce Kisell

Are professional engineering associations afraid that some geek-type MSCE is trying to pass themselves off as a structural or electrical engineer? None of the computer professionals I know want to be equated with professional engineers, plus they just don’t possess the arrogance trait that seems to go with the term P Eng. It’s like the doctors — a private club with restrictive entrance requirements, and they have apparently voted themselves as protectors of the faith. I would hope that the Engineering associations will also include all other so-called unauthorized uses of the term “”engineer”” in their quest for purity within their ranks. Why single out Microsoft for an inquisition?

Please withhold my name if you publish this, as I do work for an engineering firm (with P. Eng.s) and have for the past 15 years, so I am quite familiar (from a practical sense) with the P. Eng. side of the engineering debate. I am an IT guy though. In fact at one point in my career my business card said “”Customer Support Engineer.”” Go figure.

The term engineer was not coined by any of the professional engineers associations. They just appropriated it. The idea of ‘protecting’ a single word in the English language is a ridiculous concept.

If the Professional Engineers can protect the term by itself, then why not also protect the word professional? That word is also part of their title. Then any claim to professionalism could also be the subject of a lawsuit as well. They could get rich without doing any work–just sue people.

Yes, protect the aggregate title professional engineer, protect the designation PEng., protect any combination of terms that refers to the designation of “”Professional Engineer””, but protect to one word is ridiculous. It is not a trade name like Coke or Kleenex. Those are coined words and should be protected. But they were never in general use before their respective companies coined them.

William H. (Bill) Turgeon

I think that the engineers are being too self-centred. I don’t believe that a person with a reasonable amount of intelligence who’s searching for a computer professional is going to confuse a Microsoft certified systems engineer with a professional engineer.

As a computer professional, I rely more on someone’s demonstrated abilities than any designation that they have.

Tom Lobb

I am commenting both as a professional engineer and the IT manager for the company I work for.

For Microsoft to use the title engineer is a marketing ploy to build a false reputation based on the professional engineering profession. Consider, for example, what the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) has done with use of their ISP designation. No conflict and a well-respected designation which I am currently applying for.

Hector Campbell

I support the efforts of the CCPE to approve and enforce penalties against the use of the term Engineer such as in MSCE. At one point I myself considered using the term Software Engineer to describe what I do, but have since gone back to Programmer/Analyst since it is descriptive, relates more to the IT industry and/also more closely relates to the certifications I have obtained.

Darrel Brooks

Sr. Webmaster

In this country people who operate boilers and other stationery power equipment have used the term engineer for years as in “”Power Engineer”” and “”Stationery Engineer.”” I have a certificate with an Alberta Government Seal and Inter-provincial seal that says “”3rd Class Engineer’s Certificate of Competency.”” Do I have a degree in engineering? No. I’ve never heard any complaints from anywhere about that usage.

I think usage of the word engineer alone could cause some confusion, but in the context of the designation it is obvious that the MCSE is not a university educated engineer. MCSEs engineer computer networks and that is all. The key to designation is the P. Eng. designator that university educated engineers use. That designation can only be assigned by an engineers association and that is the one that I’ll look for when I want to hire someone to build my next bridge (along with that silly pinky ring).

The professional engineers need to stick their egos’ in their pockets. If I wanted to be a real engineer I’d go to university.

Marv Hasenbein


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