Redefining engineer for the future

The first two definitions of an engineer in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1974) are:

  1. designs and constructs military works; a soldier of the branch of the army called ‘Engineers’; trained to engineering.
  2. one who designs works of public utility, bridges, canals, gas-works, etc.; maker of engines.

Unfortunately, I don’t fit into any of those categories since I received my degree in electrical engineering but then worked only in the highly specialized field of electro-optics, which originated in Albert Einstein’s paper “The Photo-Electric Effect” of 1905.

I was employed initially as a device designer and later as a quality and reliability assurance engineer in the same field. For example, I worked on electronic devices that were utilized by higher level customers in their products, i.e. we were near the bottom of the food chain (as it were)—so safety was not our prime requirement, but it would eventually be the concern and the responsibility of the end-user.

For the work I did, my engineering degree by itself was more than adequate—the P.Eng. was never an actual job requirement! More than that, since our customers were primarily American or European, the signature and seal of a professional engineer was irrelevant to them. As long as my superiors in the company had approved my work, that was all our customers needed or wanted to know.

For my employers and myself, there were only two requirements for our devices: that they be of the highest quality consistent with maximum reliability. Anything less was completely unsatisfactory!

Based on the history I know of the engineering profession in Canada, it seems to have been formed and driven by civil engineers with the natural need for safety foremost in their minds.

Obviously, this is not a bad thing—but it is NOT always what every engineer considers important or necessary in his/her particular job.

The point I wish to make is many of the engineering requirements in Canada for a P.Eng. today are not applicable to what many of us in the engineering community do daily.

This makes me think we need to re-examine the engineering profession and redefine it for the 21st century and beyond, especially as we are approaching the centennial of our profession.

One suggestion I have for PEO is to split the profession into two significantly different groups, for example:

  1. “Civil” (my suggested nomenclature for engineers who require safety in all their work) and;
  2. “Designer” (my suggested nomenclature for those individuals for whom safety is not the prime concern).

These terms above are a suggestion only and can obviously be discussed and/or modified.

I offer these thoughts to you and the executive as a part of the discussion that I believe is required to improve the high level of engineering effort in Canada, however that may be defined.

B. Grant Gordon, P.Eng., Belleville, ON