When Is an Engineer Not an Engineer?

Apparently when the government says you are not, at least that’s the case with one hapless engineer in the United States.

Chuck Murray, Senior Technical Editor at Design News, writes about a bizarre case in the U.S. in which an engineer's credentials are being seriously investigated by the State of Illinois in his recent article, "Are You An Engineer If You Don't Pass The P.E.?"

(Note PE stands for Professional Engineering Exam, a test I once studied for but never took because I elected to attend instead a cribbage tournament that weekend instead. On second thought....)

Murray writes: "During the course of his 55-year career, Burton Siegal has assembled a resume that would be the envy of most design engineers....Unfortunately for Siegal, the state of Illinois isn't sure he deserves to be called an engineer. Because Siegal isn't a certified Professional Engineer (P.E.), the state's Department of Financial & Professional Regulation is investigating him for the unlicensed practice of engineering. Siegal's attorney says Illinois has asked him to "show cause" to prevent it from levying a "cease and desist" order that would stop Siegal from using the term "engineer" or "engineering" on his business card or in his company's name. Siegal sees the matter as a cruel irony, especially since he is an engineering graduate of the University of Illinois. "



  1. Engineers are in a bit of a quandry… The myriad of garbage that now passes as engineering education extends, but is not limited to, Online degrees, Engineering Technology degrees (EGR without the math), Associate degrees, No degree at all, etc ad nauseum…
    At any rate, even with an ABET accredited degree, I doubt that colleges from Wayne State to MIT to Cal Tech are all standardized. What irks me is the difficulty to get a degree (much harder than law) and the shoddy respect engineers get (every yahoo thinks he is an engineer). On one hand, I think requring a PE in ALL circumstances would help but, on the other hand, it would throw the baby out with the bath water. You could be an MIT grad and be put in the same category as a GED grad if you did not have the license. Honestly, not sure what difference it makes..the Society of PEs is weak and has no enforcement power. Unlike the legal field or AMA, we have no lobbying power. All the jobs are being imported or farmed out anyway and accountants think we are all idiots, though they generally lack the intellect to get thru egr school, were they to try.

  2. Wake up, Burton is a Real Engineer, like some of the best in this world, unlicensed. Some of us have spent more than our share of time and money wasted in government approved college, mostly on non-practical applications. Not all of us believe we need to pay an extortion fee or take a test to work, take a mark or prove our value as an engineer to anyone, especially when we gain a reputation for doing what the subjects (slave marked P.E.’s) have failed to do. Read the Declaration of Independence with a free mind, not you corrupted TV mind. That is why so many of you can’t think creatively like an engineer. Many people who did the time, like to claim a title of nobility for the sake of getting paid a fee that they are not worth. Most would find out if they really had to work for a living. Sheep, you should look at http://www.ae911truth.org, Loose Change 2 or you could just keep watching TV with the rest of your flock.

  3. The system described by Harvey Glickenstein seems entirely sensible, using the term Professional Engineer. In the UK we would use Chartered Engineer. But the state of Illinois is trying to stop Mr. Siegal using the word Engineer. The word already exists in the dictionary and in everyday language and it does NOT mean a person who has passed particular tests.

  4. Harvey Glickenstein

    Illinois is not the only state to enforce the licensing laws for Professional Engineers. If you are working in industry you are exempt from the licensing laws. Only if you seal plans for construction or work for the general public can you be cited. The issue is whether or not you advertise that you are an engineer A resume sent in to a company for work that is not required by law to be performed by a Professional Engineer does not violate the law. The law is based on protecting the general public from having non-qualified people doing something that would be a danger to the public safety. You can’t advertise yourself as a doctor either, even if you went to school and learned all about it unless you get a license either. The test for being licensed as Professional Engineer is actually a national one, not a state one, but each state taxes engineers in order to be licensed in that state and some states also require you to pass a test on the laws concerning rights and responsibilities of Professional Engineers under the lawas of that particular state.

  5. I have heard so many complaints about lack of recognition for professional engineers (as opposed to TV repairmen and fridge installers), that this really has to be a good sign.
    OK, Illinois may have picked on an unfortunate guy, but the principle has to be good. You can’t have it both ways – if you think that it should be obvious who is an engineer and who isn’t, obvious to whom? Who do you think should decide?

  6. You’re not an ‘engineer’ if you haven’t bothered with the bureaucratic requirements (the PE), just like you aren’t a ‘lawyer’ if you haven’t passed the bar exam, in the state you’re practicing law. At least ‘engineers’ have greater reciprocity from state to state. Just because a person has managed to get a degree from wingnut_U doesn’t mean the state will allow him to build bridges, or give court testimony on engineering matters.

  7. Are we in danger of missing something in translation from the American terminology? If an Engineer in the UK claimed to be a Chartered Engineer, but wasn’t, then his employer would be entitled to take some action against him? His training and competency is a separate matter. I am suprised though because I thought America was the main perpetrator of title inflation, isn’t a Train Driver called an Engineer?

  8. It doesn’t surprise me; the same lunacy is happening here. An electrician who takes a 4-week course (C&G/EAL) and passes the exams is qualified to re-wire your house, but an electronics engineer of thirty years experience, even with a PhD, is not. I wonder if there’ll ever be a qualification for politicians?

  9. Pathetic is the only word for it.
    By what right do these people sit in judgement are they members of the IET/IEEE, I doubt it very much.

  10. No, you are NOT an Engineer unless you pass the PE and register. To practice professional engineering, and use those words on a card, title, business name, etc, you have to register. It’s unlawful to call yourself an engineer unless you do this.
    It should be easy for him to write and pass the PE exam with 55 years of experience and a degree in Engineering. If he didn’t know that he’s supposed to register with his state regulatory body, then what else has he missed? Most bodies require continuing development in order to stay registered. Look at our tech level 55 years ago. Rules change; procedures are updated.
    What if:
    1. He was a gifted surgeon with a 55-year career, but he’d never signed up with the College of Physicians and Surgeons?
    2.He was a “non-bar” lawyer, but was pretty good at legal matters?
    In the above cases, he’d clearly be in the wrong. Suddenly, when it’s Engineering, the idea of regulation goes out the window? Ridiculous! If he knows what he’s doing, then he can write the damned exam and register like every other Professional Engineer in the western world.

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