IT industry wins round in engineering name debacle

An Edmonton court has ruled that certified IT professionals can use the word engineer in their titles, but some say the battle that has pitted technology companies against the engineering community is far from over.

“”This is a big win for the IT industry,”” said Raymond Merhej, an Apple Canada-certified

systems engineer whom the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA) took to court in 2000 over the use of the word engineer in his title on his company’s Web site.

Under the decision, IT professionals cannot call themselves professional engineers (P.Eng), he explained. “”But someone who is a systems engineer representative, certified network engineer — you know, there are tons of those titles in the IT industry — (can use the word engineer in their professional title).””

The dismissal of APEGGA’s appeal by Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench’s late last year is the second strike against the industry body, whose 2001 injunction against Merhej, president of Edmonton-based infoLink and co-owner of Vogel Publishing, was also dismissed by the province’s appeal court.

Previously in

Would the real engineers please stand up?

But Canadian engineers working in IT are serious about limiting the use of the word engineer and ultimately the practice of engineering to their licensed individual practitioners, said Paul Bassett, chair of the Canadian Information Processing Society‘s committee on software engineering issues in Mississauga, Ont.

CIPS recently formed a committee to help ensure competent, ethical individuals can practice software engineering or any IT occupation for which the word “”engineer”” has commonly been used in job titles.

One of the engineering profession’s objections is that confusion may arise if the public mistakes a software engineer, for example, for a professional engineer, Merhej explained.

Yet big IT industry players such as IBM and Microsoft began using the word engineer in certain professional designations in the 1960s, he argues. The engineering field “”never had problems (over use of the term) for 40 years, 50 years. Suddenly they are having an issue with it.””

APEGGA has no plans to accept the court decision, either. It “”weakens our ability to enforce our legislation,”” said executive director and registrar Neil Windsor.

This is why his organization, which has already had preliminary discussions with the Alberta government, will seek amendments to the Engineering, Geological and Geophysical Professions Act that make it “”abundantly clear who can use the titles (and) who cannot.”” APEGGA is confident these changes, which will make it tougher for courts to dispute, will likely go into effect within one or two years.

Until that day, Merhej believes the Alberta court decision will help repair the damage done to the IT sector when Alberta’s engineering industry began a “”very aggressive campaign”” in 2000 informing technology training institutions and clients of the illegality of certain titles containing the word engineer.

CIPS, however, maintains the industry has fared well and will be harmed only if engineering groups are successful in bringing similar charges, and organizations like Microsoft are intimidated enough to change their job classifications.

“”The reason there could be harm there is only that around the world this term ‘software engineer’ is universally used and accepted,”” said Bassett. Outlawing the title may deter foreign technology professionals with these credentials from moving to Canada for fear of being sued or even foreign companies wanting to contract work to Canadian software engineers forced to change job titles and therefore put into question their qualifications, he said.

But that said, the engineering and computer science worlds have much to contribute, said Bassett. “”Co-operation rather than litigation is a far better way to go.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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