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By Jack Ganssle

I R a Enjinear

Published 4/03/03

About 60% of the firmware developers I talk to are EEs. Computer science and computer engineering majors comprise most of the rest, with a smattering of physics and even liberal arts majors tossed in to make up the balance.

A recent poll on this site ( shows that some 70% of us refer to ourselves as engineers of one sort or another. But if you live in Texas and call yourself an engineer you may be breaking the law.

A Houston Chronicle article ( indicates that a law there limits the use of "engineer" to those people who are registered Professional Engineers (PE). That requires passing a really tough exam which tests all of the knowledge acquired in college. Can't zip through a circular integral or pop out Maxwell's equations? You're hosed.

Currently non-PEs in Texas who use the word "engineer" in their titles risk a $3000/day fine. Thank god I live in Maryland, otherwise I'd be out $3000 * 365 days/yr * 30 years, or some $33 million.

The Texas Society of Professional Engineers ( is protesting a sunset law that would largely rescind these restrictions. They want to limit "engineer" to degreed people with the PE certification.

These folks are confused. Legislate actions, not titles. Laws already exist that require licensed engineers to sign off on drawings made for large buildings, bridges, tunnels and other potentially dangerous structures of the civil engineering profession.

PEs worry that the public will be confused by the use of the title "engineer" by an uncertified individual. Yeah, right. "Engineer" to the average Joe means someone who drives a train.

The dictionary defines an engineer as "one who is trained or professionally engaged in a branch of engineering". In other words, walk the walk and you're an engineer.

A doctor, on the other hand, is "a person, especially a physician, dentist, or veterinarian, trained in the healing arts and licensed to practice". (Italics mine). By definition, docs, who treat people, who prescribe potentially life-threatening drugs, and who cut into a person's body, must be licensed. Actions are important, not titles.

Virtually anyone can call themselves a "doctor". Kiss sang of the Doctor of Love. Doctor John the Night Tripper infringed no rights and caused no harm. Doctor Demento ( may have been a purveyor of bad taste, but that's hardly actionable. Did the State come after these folks for misrepresentation? (Drug busts not relevant for this discussion).

I bet most of the engineers in Texas are in the electronics industry, designing embedded systems, chips, and Dell computers. If PEs are really concerned about public perception, they have nothing to fear; no one knows what these people do, anyway. If they're worried about public safety, it makes more sense to regulate work products. Maybe a licensed PE should sign off on a switching power supply, as a failure there can cause a fire. Of course, an independent certification - like UL - makes even more sense.

Or maybe the market is a better arbiter of these potential threats. Lawsuits blossom from every real or imagined injury. Like them or not, these suits do lead to more caution - perhaps sometimes excessive caution - in product design.

98% of us, on an earlier poll ( feel that in the embedded world a degree is not at all important or, at best, somewhat important. Exactly zero percent felt the degree was very important or a basic requirement. Respondents were practicing, uh, engineers (this isn't Texas so I can say that), people doing the work, folks who know what's necessary.