The Dangers Of Engineering While Unlicensed

Citizen engineers, beware the Beaver State. If you want to discuss engineering in a public setting, you’d better have a license. If you don’t, you could end up like Oregon resident Mats Järlström — paying a $500 fine and being threatened with even larger civil penalties and jail time.

The story of how Järlström became ensnared in this unfortunate series of events begins innocently enough, and it’s a story that any Hackaday reader can probably relate to. After his wife received a traffic ticket in the mail from a red-light camera in the town of Beaverton, Järlström began pondering the math of traffic signal timing. After a little digging, he found the formula used for calculating the time traffic signals stay in the yellow stage. Moreover, he found a flaw in the formula, which dates back to 1959, that could lead to incorrect violations issued by automated traffic cameras.

Järlström began communicating his findings far and wide, as any of us might do in an attempt to right an injustice. But the first rule of engineering in Oregon is apparently not to talk about engineering in Oregon if you’re not a licensed professional engineer (PE), which Järlström is not. With a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering from his native Sweden, the twenty-year resident of Oregon is not qualified to practice engineering in that state, at least by the lights of the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. We’ve looked at unlicensed engineering issues before and it’s interesting now to take a look at an example in practice.

That Board got wind of Järlström’s nefarious unlicensed engineering activities through a pretty direct route: he told them about it. He asked the Board to look into the traffic engineering practices in Beaverton, insisting that the city engineers were misusing traffic light timing formulas. They responded with a request that he stop practicing engineering without a license, and to stop referring to himself as an engineer without proper accreditation, lest fines and other actions be taken.

Although Järlström agreed to comply with the Board’s request, he continued to press the issue, this time on a much larger stage. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, local TV news, and even 60 Minutes were all contacted with his findings. At that point, the Board swept in with a criminal investigation and issued the $500 fine, which Järlström paid.

Mr. Järlström has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit (PDF) to speak and write freely about traffic light timing while using the word Engineer without a state license.

There’s much more to this story, including the appeals process that Järlström is going through now. The popular media has picked up the story, to the point where a Google search of “Mats Järlström” brings up nothing but first-page hits on this specific story. But for Hackaday readers, the pressing issue is: could such apparent bureaucratic overreach affect me?

Degree Versus License

Like I pointed out, the analysis that Järlström did was something that any of us might have done. But despite my snarky “Fight Club” reference before, I don’t think his problems began with talking about his findings, which any of us would likely do in one way or another. I think he ran afoul of the system by challenging the Board of Examiners to investigate one of their own.

It’s cliche to joke about rules and limitations placed on the “blue collar” fields by trade unions, snickering at rules that say which apprentice can carry what material across the job site or the like. But don’t fool yourself — the rules that are put in place by august bodies such as the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying are designed to protect the jobs of dues paying members, just like any trade union’s rules.

To a certain extent, that’s a good thing — none of us want ersatz engineers building bridges or wannabe electricians wiring homes. But recall Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy and realize that eventually, the whole point of a bureaucracy becomes protecting itself. In Järlström’s case, his challenge to the Board to investigate the city engineers was an affront to the bureaucracy, and they responded as bureaucrats often do: with a vengeance. Järlström is an engineer by degree but not by license. That distinction is at loggerheads in this affair.

So yes, dear Hackaday readers and fellow citizens scientists and engineers, you too might one day find yourself slapped with a cease and desist order pursuant to your non-accredited activities. Hack carefully, know your limits, and know the legality of how you represent yourself to the public. And above all, when you tug on a tiger’s tail you should have a plan to deal with the teeth.

[via r/nottheonion]

243 thoughts on “The Dangers Of Engineering While Unlicensed

    1. On noes! This guy is calling himself an engineer! The horror, the humanity!

      Really? This guy has a degree in an engineering field. He has every right to refer to himself as an engineer. There is a difference between what this guy was doing vs. if he was offering his services as a locally “licensed” engineer to a paying customer. “Engineer” in this context is a qualifier, simply saying, “look, I know what I’m talking about, please hear me out.”

      This smacks of a local government getting caught with their pants down and looking for an easy way to shut the inquiry down. It also smacks of a relatively egregious violation of free speech.

      1. until you find yourself in a meeting where someone who is not an engineer is using the title to boost his credibility on a subject in which he should not be taken as an expert. can I assume you also would not have an issue with someone calling themselves a medical doctor when they aren’t actually licensed?

        1. He is an engineer. Same with doctors, they have state job restrictions AKA licencing. So a doctor away from his home area can call himself a doctor and they often practice in emergencies even out of their area.

          1. No, he’s not.

            Engineer is a restricted term, limited to those registered as Professional Engineers, who are personally liable for anything they sign off on. It’s exactly the same in Canada.

            They don’t do this for fun. Engineers are personally liable for their mistakes. The buck stops with them for everything they do. The whole thing was instituted after a series of major engineering failures that killed a lot of people. Now, are they ignoring this guy?

          2. So you only have a skill if you pay the dues for a guild? This is one of the problems with being able to move forward that trade unions and lawyers have completely owned and keep digging the hole deeper and deeper.

          3. John Smith: What is Mats Järlström signing off exactly here? What is he personally liable for? Speaking the truth that someone made a mistake in their math?

          4. @john Smith, Im not going to bother looking up if its the same in the USA as i have too many tabs open as it is…tbh i read the canada part and didnt even click it. but that sentence should describe whats wrong with the url you used as evidence…. did you happen to catch what country the story took place in?

        2. I’d have no problem with them calling themselves a doctor. They have a doctorate. The problem comes from them calling themselves an M.D. Just like someone who has passed law school can use the term esquire, but can’t call themselves a lawyer until they pass the bar. The term engineer is a blanket term and should be distinguished by the preceding ‘Licensed’, when such a distinction needs to be made.

          1. I am a nurse. I’m licensed in Michigan, but I AM A NURSE anywhere. I have the training. I can’t practice in another state but I can call myself a nurse and participate in discussions of nursing policy ANYWHERE. I don’t have to make sure that everyone in a forum is from Michigan before I speak.

            I think the real distinction here is that the powers that be are pretending that an engineer from elsewhere isn’t an engineer there, because that allows them an avenue to silence him. I would argue that discussing engineering in public is not engineering. I would argue that this guy IS an engineer, with the distinction that he is not a locally licensed engineer in a jurisdiction that requires paid dues to practice. This is a technicality being used to silence someone with a legitimate point that the powers that be would prefer not to be said.

            Personally, I think he should apply for the local license. A degree in electrical engineering from a european university is probably just as good or better than one from a US school. Might even cost less than 500 dollars too.

          2. Usually, medical doctors do not have doctorates; they have bachelor degrees. Here in Australia doctors have an MBBS pair of degrees (Bachelor of Medicine; Bachelor of Surgery). PhD-type doctors (which can be earned in medicine as in any other field of research) have doctorates. PhD means “doctor of philosophy” (and the field might be anthropology; still the same degree name).

            The OP has a degree in engineering; over here, he would be entitled to refer to himself as an engineer—but not be able to practise (and charge) as an engineer until licensed/certified (varies by country). It is the same in medicine: the MBBS degrees allow you to refer to yourself as a doctor, but if you want to practise (and charge) then you need the additional qualification.

            As an unlicensed doctor or engineer, I feel it is perfectly legitimate to comment publicly on matters that one’s training has conferred a degree of expertise in. However, if I set up as a doctor or engineer, I had better have that additional piece of paper.

          3. Khordas: the distinction of Professional Engineer involves more than just paying a fee. Holders of BS and higher engineering degrees tend to focus their studies in particular areas, so one may have a BS degree, but it will be in Electrical Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering, or Civil Engineering, or any of several other specific areas. To earn the title of Professional Engineer, one must show proficiecy in all areas of engineering, and must have a certain amount of experience as well. So no, you can’t just plunk down $500 (or any other amount) and call yourself a PE.

            The fact that Oregon requires you to have PE certification before you can hire yourself out as an “engineer” just indicates that a bunch of PEs got together and lobbied the legislature to shut down lesser engineers, giving themselves less competition to deal with in getting work, allowing them to name their own price because of the relative rarity of PEs compared with ordinary “engineers”. It’s an embarrassment.

            Note that there are many, many engineers working in Oregon who are not PEs. They generally make their livings by doing work for companies that couldn’t care less about PE certification.

          4. BrightBlueJim: “To earn the title of Professional Engineer, one must show proficiecy in all areas of engineering…”

            Yeah, that’s not true. My father was a PE, licensed in several states. The licensure exams are subject-area specific, not all-encompassing. I can’t assess much of the rest of your comment, as I don’t know the state’s laws in detail.

          5. Is he an engineer? Answer, yes if he works in a field using his engineering degree. I am an electrician, I am also licenced as an electrician. If my occupation was not associated with my schooling then I could not call myself an electrician.

          6. “If my occupation was not associated with my schooling then I could not call myself …”


            If you have been trained in a field, then you have every right to refer to yourself in that way.

            If you’re on vacation, you would still entitled to tell people who you do normally, even if you’re not licensed, or currently practising, in the place you happen to be.

          7. You are wrong. “esquire” can be used by anyone and has zero meaning or requirement of any kind in our current society. So go ahead and add esquire to your name.

        3. Alright, I’m not an engineer, I’ll make no claims to that. But you have failed to state(or perhaps notice) that Licensed Professional Engineers are distinct from unlicensed Engineers, as to become a licensed engineer requires several years of engineering work. The licenses or certifications do not make you something, they simply state you are recognized by the issuing agency as such. You can be an engineer with no certifications, licenses, or education, you simply are not a licensed engineer.

          1. “You can be an engineer with no certifications, licenses, or education, ”

            “No you fucking can’t.”

            Yes, you fucking can. Please state your authority for claiming otherwise.

          2. ” “You can be an engineer with no certifications, licenses, or education, ”

            No you fucking can’t.”

            Actually you can, but I think this is all rather silly and pointless. In 36 years of this work, I’ve seen quite the spectrum. In my humble opinion, you can call yourself whatever you want. Now, if you want to hold down a job with considerable responsibility in that capacity, then perhaps you might wish to consider attaining said certifications, licenses and education.

            However, none of those guarantee the person holding them actually *can* do the requirements of the job. I’m sure you probably have your own horror stories about those holding advanced degrees, but their performance is sub-par.

            These are all just attempts to reasonably assure others (such as someone seeking to hire them) that the person holding such licenses, certifications and degrees kinda-sorta knows what they’re doing.

            I suspect this entire argument will be lost by the State of Oregon because of the manner in which they responded. They can certainly require licensing for certain titles for certain public-trust responsibilities (e.g. Law enforcement, Medical professions, Road & Traffic engineering et al) but they don’t have any authority over private-sector job titles.

            I think this is where there’s some confusion and certainly an overreach of authority in an attempt to silence dissenting voices.

        4. I have spent my whole life being treated by Doctors, Surgeons, Dentists etc etc and have even worked for years as an Engineer. I have never knowingly met anyone who was licensed by the State of Oregon.
          What magical incantation by the Oregon Board of Quackery removes the qualifications of someone who crosses the State border?

      2. It’s all of those things. He is improperly calling himself an “Engineer”, and issuing technical opinions to the public. That is illegal in most states. (It IS legal though, to call yourself an “Engineer” in your work for another company, as long as you aren’t offering SERVICES to the public, again in most states).

        But yeah, it seems pretty likely that they just wanted to shut him down rather than take him seriously, too.

        Everybody’s right, everybody’s wrong.

        1. what if one has the degree and wishes to offer services to the public? can they state the school and degree if they dont say “i am an engineer” but rather “i have a(an) xyz engineering degree from blah” surely thats legal?

        2. Public Engineer… it has a PE that follows the name, and companies maybe have consultants that maintain such licensures, yet outside consulting capacities or direct state contract, degreed Engineers are most hired, and without expectation they do anything besides their work about that. Licensed Public Engineer is its own credential in state capacities, and that board was just trying to further bully its defects into deceptive revenue.

          If he was so unqualified, why did a state pay-rolled Public Engineer not answer the burden of proof in math?

          Einstein on trial, though. He calculates a public interest matter that happened to effect him; and he expects the board to not assume corruption carelessness. The dynamics must’ve been so odd; yet there’s worse.

      3. Yeah, next up: You need to have studied politics and have a license to debate about politicians. And you’ll need to have studied law and have a lawyer license to sue someone. And you’ll need to have studied electrical engineering and have a engineering license to replace a goddamn light bulb.

        And people call that “land of the free”?

      4. “This guy has a degree in an engineering field. He has every right to refer to himself as an engineer. ”

        No he doesn’t. Not in places where the term is protected for something other than a degree.

        1. Yes he does. He has a degree in Engineering, therefore he is an engineer. What he is not is a Licensed Engineer in the state of Oregon. That is the argument that the bureaucracy is taking.

          1. Why are all of you arguing? The law says you are not an engineer and you do not get to call yourself an engineer if you dont regiater. It’s the law. Wheter we agree with it is a different story. We can all go in the street and fight against it but right now, at this fucking moment, you are not an engineer if you dont register.

            How can you guys argue against facts? Read the legal documents.

        2. “No he doesn’t. Not in places where the term is protected for something other than a degree.”

          A few thousand holders of engineering degrees and I will happily tell you to you we are engineers, even though we are not licensed. We went and did the work to get the degree, anyone saying we can’t call ourselves engineers can GTH.

          1. Furthermore, a license means nothing in compared to actual engineering ability. I’ve only worked with one PE that I know of (was robotics/automation, now aerospace) and he was a lazy idiot with a superiority complex. Spent all his time telling everyone how to do things and never got his stuff done. When he thought he was finished, his work always got met with significant criticism. I was glad to no longer work with him when I changed companies.

            The policies are what they are so technically he wasn’t an “engineer”. But saying one guy is engineer because he passed a test once and can now be considered responsible, then saying another guy with years and years of rock-solid engineering experience isn’t is just foolish…

        3. PE is a protected term. Engineers are hired across various specificities and experience without conventions of added licensure. Fields that carry those conventions often have its concerns fall on firms of employment, and demand is vast for specialties that are not roadways etc. Civil and environmental engineering come up regarding PE JOBS, but not civilian challenges to an engineering hazard or intended rip-off? Bad way.

      5. SMH. No. He decided to go full Benchoff and got his due. Also, yellow means it is about to turn red in this country which is stop. After watching people getting t-boned at intersections and myself having nearly been killed several times by morons running lights, I think it would be great if folks would obey the traffic laws (and end filtering for motorcycles) so we can all get home safely.
        As a non-engineer myself it is what keeps me from repairing things that can catch fire and melt someone’s house. I leave that for licensed and insured professionals that haven’t figured out that litigation is this country’s lottery…

          1. Lol. Exactly. To avoid this they could easily pull a California. Damn I hate saying that but at least they are mostly standardized to illuminate for a certain time period. Smart because then this issue with a formula being incorrect or incorrectly implemented is removed.

        1. So I’m sure you won’t complain when, while traveling the speed limit and the light turns yellow as you enter the intersection, you get a ticket because it turns red before you’ve crossed.
          Timing for a residential 25mph intersection is different from the timing for a 70mph highway intersection, and both are different from the timing of an intersection where the government has decided they can increase revenue by shortening the timing or taking advantage of a flawed calculation that has been ignored for 50 years.

          1. Come to Silicon Valley and I’ll show you some dirty traffic lights. It’s getting to the point where I’m counting cycles to try and anticipate the bots next move…as long as I don’t get stuck behind a Prius or 50 year old pickup…I can usually count my way through. I’v also made a habit out of making hand gestures to try and make the folks in the cars next to me think I’m controlling the lights. Sure, I know I’m a bit weird – but I know I’d appreciate the joke if someone tried it on me.

            What were we here for again? Oh yeah, our friend Järlström…I haven’t looked into the law personally. But if he wasn’t offering paid services to the public…I call BS. Feels like he found a slush-fund tap that the local government didn’t want to let run dry…I can see the use of the law – but I feel like he was citizen first, engineer second, and certainly not for profit or in a position to harm anyone except for the reputation of a few folks.

          2. In my area, the rule is that a vehicle may not enter an intersection when the light is yellow. The light turning yellow as you enter the intersection would break that rule as I see it.

          3. Spritle: This is patently absurd. Setting aside any practical limit on reaction time by assuming you have an exceedingly powerful retro-rocket and an automatic signal sensor and stopping system, If you are travelling at 45 miles/hour (I trust I can use customary units since we’re talking about Oregon), and the light goes yellow 1 millisecond before you enter the intersection, the acceleration necessary to prevent you from entering the intersection would most definitely kill you. Or do they have a “pre-yellow” light in your area?

          4. In my area, the rule is that a vehicle may not enter an intersection when the light is red. The light turning red as you enter the intersection would break that rule as I see it.

            Here it is perfectly legal to enter on yellow.

        2. Yellow does not necessarily mean stop. People need to get that idea out of their heads. If yellow meant stop then it would have no purpose. It would be the same as red.

          Yellow means go through if you are already close to doing so. Otherwise start slowing down and prepare to stop. Imagine if the lights really did go from green straight to red (or a yellow that actually meant the same as red). What if you are already right up on the intersection? Can you stop on a dime? Can the jerk that is tailgating you? How about if you are already in the middle of an intersection at the time it turns?

          The problem is that too many cities are setting there yellow times to be so short that it might as well go straight from green to red. The do this because they are evil, soulless greedy bastards who are willing to make you less safe just so they can have an opportunity to steal your money through ticketing.

          1. real question if i lived in one of those cities is…does that camera record your plate when the ir sensor that reads police, medical and fire to override light change is triggered?

          1. OK I challenge you…
            You get a bucket of 97 octane gasoline, unlimited lit cigarettes, and an entire warm dry afterneoon in a paved parking lot to try to get that gasoline burning.
            I challenge you as I challenged my fire academy cadets to light that fuel with the cigarette.
            Now I will say the open flame from a gas lighter WILL light the gasoline, but not a cigarette, sorry explody action films.
            Funny I was actually issued an engineer certification(fire engine pump operator) among other qualifications by the State of Oregon, I wonder what they would do to me when I whipped out that technically very correct cert to their committee along with an actual engineering degree?
            I correct myself, elsewhere the title of a pump-op is engineer, in Oregon we were certified as apparatus operators, damn, they are thorough those zealously litigeous engineering guildsmen.

          2. Can’t content on Dave’s post but absolutely right. It’s not the has that explodes but the vapors. Pour has on stuff for a bon fire and try and light out immediately, not easy; wait ten minutes on a South Carolina day and make sure your clothes are not fuzzy or flammable.

    2. I didn’t read the whole thing but it seems to be mostly Pendants and ‘Me-Too’s in a dick waving contest over what he was actually fined for.

      I will point out that in most of Europe, including Sweden, having a degree in Electrical Engineering DOES entitle you to describe yourself as an engineer.

      1. > I will point out that in most of Europe, including Sweden, having a degree in Electrical Engineering DOES entitle you to describe yourself as an engineer.

        Not just that. In most (but not all) professions with a degree you’re also allowed to offer commercial services without special license or being a “member”…

      2. German here, can confirm. If you get a masters degree in engineering, you’re an engineer. Done.

        The only cases where you actually need a certification for are cases where you need to do certification of things. For instance a “VDI-Geprüfter Fachingeneur RLQ” (“Association of German Engineers-certified engineer with specification to Indoor Air Quality”) is someone who can certify air quality control systems. While someone without that amazingly long title may still be an engineer for IAQ systems, he can not certify said systems.

        1. And even though I studied 50% maths and 50% computer science in Germany, my degree does not allow me to call myself “Ingenieur”. But the business cards given to me by my employer say I’m an “engineer”.

          1. Well, technically, if you’ve studied computer science, you’re a scientist. There’s even a “Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering” degree, which technically makes you a scientist, but not an engineer.

            Then again, i’m a network engineer without having studied anything related to engineering. So there’s that.

          2. Well, same here. My business card correctly states “Dipl. Math.” as “title” (yes, I know, it is a qualification, not a title), but when asked I usually say “I work as an engineer”, because, that’s what I do. Really, “physicist with math degree, self-taught computer scientist and electronics knowledge-bearer” would be a tad hefty for a business card, wouldn’t it?
            I am aware that I am not legally an engineer but I hadn’t realized what a mine-field this actually is.

      3. In most European countries the use of the word engineer is not protected and anyone can say he is an engineer. If you want a real engineer, you than ask the engineering diploma certificate and cross-check it with the corresponding school.

        1. That or:
          Technician == average pleb who follows a script,
          experienced technician == someone who binned the scripts and seems to get it right sometimes*.
          experienced engineer == not qualified, yet apparently verified to know what (s)he is on about by a….
          Qualified engineer == Someone who forgot that thingie he studied 5 years ago when he graduated*.

          Terms are not accurate and yet are based, to my knowledge, closely** to what the EU/UK standards terms are

          * OK I give said categories less credit than they usually deserve.

          **In other words, based on what common categories that I have heard mentioned at work and other engineering situations/places, hence the slight mockery on the descriptions.

          1. It’s somewhat akin to officers vs. enlisted in the military: an enlisted soldier with the rank of chief master sergeant and 25 years of experience is outranked by a lieutenant who just completed Officer Candidate School. Just substitute “technician” for “enlisted” and “engineer” for “officer”, and you’ve got it. In no case does the ranking reflect on the actual value of that person to the organization. Except here there’s a third class that outranks all other engineers or technicians – the “Professional Engineer”.

          2. We always said in the Navy as an electronics technician that it takes someone with a college degree to fuck shit up and someone with a high school diploma to fix it. Totally true most times.
            Officer: My console doesn’t work.
            Tech: Why does it smell like burnt sugar and why is there a damn Coke can right there.
            Officer: Oh I was thirsty and I might have spilled my Coke.
            Tech: I hate my life, morons, and the institution that said you were “smart”

    3. Many non-engineers don’t seem to grasp how out of line the state’s position is on this incident.

      People earn engineering degrees at Oregon State University. Many of them work at Intel, a major employer in Oregon. Intel calls them engineers. That what it says on their business cards, their badges, and their emails. That’s what they write down on their tax returns for “occupation”. That’s what they are.

      Yet, due to some wordage in the law, probably dating back to when engineers designed steam engines, they’re not allowed to call themselves “engineer” without a PE license. PE licenses are rare at electronics companies like Intel, generally impractical to obtain, and essentially useless in that industry.

      So what should an engineer call himself when the state says he can’t use that word?

      1. +10

        It’s a very real problem. And also remember that the mind-numbing and ridiculously long test to get licensed as a PE can be taken in various concentrations, and have no bearing on the kind of PE license issued (there is only one, you are either a PE or not a PE). Therefore a civil engineer can be a licensed PE and speak openly about a ME or EE topic, and be considered more “reputable” to the state than an experienced PHD holder in that respective field who is unlicensed. Because Logic.

        I am a licensed engineer and I find it ridiculous.

        1. What kind of questions do they ask on this test? I find it hard to fathom a useful test of competence that Civil, Chemical, and Computer Engineers could all pass…

          1. Thermodynamics, mostly, and some statics and dynamics. Electrical Engineers almost never bother to get licensed as Professional Engineers (PEs) in the US, unless they work on electric power – turbines and towers and stuff. The fundamentals exam is sort of aimed at the sub-branches of engineering that actually require a license.

            The legal benchmark in the US is “is it suitable for interstate commerce?” If not, then you have to be a PE to design it (parking decks, power plants, large commercial air conditioning). If not, then you don’t have to be licensed. Fairly few Electrical Engineers are licensed PEs, and almost no Aerospace Engineers are – turns out that aircraft are extremely well suited for interstate commerce. Virtually all Civil Engineers are licensed (or working under the supervision of a licensed PE), since bridges and foundations just aren’t suitable for interstate commerce.

            My feeling is that traffic control systems in general are site-specific, so you have to be a PE, but the controllers themselves are small enough for FedEx to deliver them overnight. Anyway, as long as he isn’t charging for his valuable service then he’s pretty prosecution resistant (i.e., not worth the trouble).

        2. Is it just me or did this guy find a nice way to challenge both the ludicrous laws of the state that likely conflict with free speech protections when it comes to saying “I am an engineer” when there are many many contexts where that is a useful and truthful thing to say without being licensed as a PE, and simultaneously gain a lot more exposure to the traffic issue thanks to the extra injustice?

          1. It’s not just you. People in power fall for such things all the time. They’re too out of touch with reality. For the low price of only $500, he has gone international with his cause.

        3. But a PE may not offer engineering advice or opinions on matters they are not competent to discuss. Doing so is against the terms of licensure (in Texas at any rate) and you are subject to having your license revoked by the board if it is brought to their attention.

          1. When it comes to basic math like this I highly doubt ANY engineer with ISN’T competent to discuss. And if he were not competent I certainly doubt he would be competent as an engineer in any other field.

      2. As I understand it, the context in which one calls themselves “engineer” matters – specifically, there’s an “industrial exemption” – no licensing needed if you’re involved in an industry engaged in interstate commerce. So – if you are involved in anything that involves a product offered in multiple states, the requirement for licensing goes away. This applies to 99% of engineers.

        The problem here is – municipality traffic lights are specific to a state, and in this case, treaded upon the area where civil engineers practice (and due to the nature of civil engineering, the industrial exemption rarely applies to them and hence everyone is licensed as a PE.)

        In some ways it’s archaic and should be replaced by a system that focuses on the area of the practice where a PE license becomes incredibly important – putting one’s signature on a civil engineering project’s design. I think that this hasn’t happened because, with the exception of rare corner cases such as this traffic lights discussion, that’s basically what’s already happening – only people who are involved in places where PE signatures are required are getting PE certs, and in general, except for when it’s time to sign off on something, no one is particularly finicky about credentials.

      3. At HP, we went from being “Software Engineers” to “Software Developers” because of this issue. To be fair, most didn’t have an engineering degree but a Computer Science degree.

        1. I resemble that. My degree is in Computer Science, but I’ve never considered myself to be a scientist. Job title has always been some variant of Software Engineer, and yep I’ve done lots of engineering. And a little coding.

      4. I worked for a Nortel Networks in Texas long ago, where I believe (not positive) we had the same “engineer” laws. As a practicing electrical engineer, our official business cards labeled me as a “Member of the Scientific Staff” with no mention of the word “engineer”. Good thing scientists don’t have a professional society policing their title.

        I wonder how many railroad engineers get threatened?

      5. You are correct just as a person with with an architectural degree is not an architect without having taken the passed the Pe test. Its all about liability. The people at Intel or Harris or whoever are titled engineers and the company assumes the liability if a product goes sideways and hurts or kills someone. You may have a degree in software and be a software engineer at Intel but you cannot walk out the door, call yourself an engineer and design a 65 meter dish antenna or sign off on a 6 story building plan. You will then get a grasp on the states position.
        He can call himself “SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT” with an engineering degree

        1. When I call myself an engineer, I am not claiming to be worthy of designing a public structure, and nobody is going to take it that way.

          What is especially goofy about the state’s position is that this guy was not designing traffic lights, or offering to design them, or claiming expert knowledge in the subject. He was merely making observations and offering some ideas.

          If I were to see that a street light was out, I would be inclined to call the city and tell them it should be replaced. But apparently in Oregon, that would constitute practicing engineering without a license.

        2. This guy isn’t building a damn bridge or sky scraper. He’s just TALKING, its not like he is even trying to give them code or an algorithm to fix the lights, he is just saying, its broken look into it.

          1. Exactly!!!
            He’s talking about things that any non-engineer could talk about.

            Thankfully, with the upcoming digital disruption and consequent loss of 40% of jobs to technology – these useless, waste of time space and oxygen, bureaucrats will be out of a job permanently.

      6. In Canada we have Engineering Technologist and Certified Engineering Technologist. It is between and Technician and an Engineer. Typically it is a 3 year diploma that doesn’t transfer well towards a 4 year+ engineering degree. A degree in electrical engineering took something like 6 years. The diploma’s are generally much more focused than an engineering degree. My diploma is in Telecommunications Engineering Technology so we only focused on stuff that could be directly applied to telecom.

      7. This was a big problem in Puerto Rico too. There is (was? not sure) a local engineering guild/union that got gov’t laws passed to prohibit the use of the title Engineer without having an up to date membership, and outrageous restrictions if you weren’t a graduate of a local (on island) university.

        It essentially meant if you weren’t a PR native, you had little chance of using the title. So my employer made an official change to all titles. You were a “FOO Specialist” instead of “FOO Engineer”, on anything that ever touched the local gov’t. Since the company itself is state-side, they of course classify you as engineer on their internal stuff, and allow you to use either title on your resume, etc.

      8. It’s a trade guild, and like all trade guilds, they are parasitic organisms created by other parasitic organisms(lawyers) to exploit the law for profit under the guide of some nonsense such as “workers rights” or “public trust”. Take the “Bar”… a completely non-governmental organization that has woven it’s tentacles through the halls of power to make tithes to it a requirement for any seeking to use their knowledge of the law for the benefit of others.

    4. Well the term ‘engineer’ is overly broad…
      At most he was an ‘Electrical engineer’ and not a ‘Civil engineer’, this where the powers that be got so angry (because they felt he was claiming he was the latter).

    5. It’s a fundamental fallacy to apply the principles of our little hacker community to this situation. This isn’t the rag-tag security world where you can post a new brilliant exploit on your blog and have everyone scramble to patch OpenSSL. Where the only proof of your mad skilz needed is something that’s inherently self-evident from what you release.

      In Canada you SIMPLY CANNOT call yourself an engineer, even if you have a degree. Practically every laymen out there automatically equates a degree in engineering as being the only requirement, but it is definitely not the case. It may be more lax where you’re from, but in Canada, in order to become an engineer you must, at minimum:

      -Obtain an engineering degree from and ACCREDITED university (that’s one that’s had the tires checked on a course by course basis)
      -Write a difficult examination on law and ethics (there’s a whole university course on preparing for this alone)
      -Work under an already licenced engineer in the field for several years, while they check and sign off on all your work

      Honestly, getting the degree doesn’t even compare to the process as a whole. It’s really only like getting the letter of acceptance to the hypothetical “school of engineering;” effectively saying your grades are good enough to enter.

      Now I’m not going to argue about how stupid or trivial little crap like a traffic light formula is. Engineers are human and make mistakes. (what did you think that ring was made of?) The fundamental problem here is not one of bureaucracy over little things, but of precedent affecting public safety. For the same reason the Red Cross cracks down on anyone, worldwide, for using a Red Cross symbol incorrectly, no engineering body in Canada can allow some nobody with an unrecognizable degree (that for all they know came out of a swamp, since someone from a Canadian board hasn’t personally come and sat in on the lectures of each course (believe me, I’ve had it happen during some of my courses, when the time came ’round)) and who hasn’t proved to be competent with Canadian laws and ethics, and who hasn’t logged experience with another engineer in the field, to run around to all kinds of people and news outlets and (effectively) tell them he’s a licenced engineer.

      Because that’s exactly what he’s doing when he says ‘engineer;’ when he says the word engineer, it automatically means and only means the licenced variety. Perhaps you think this is stupid, and you wouldn’t be totally baseless, but it’s considered analogously to calling yourself a doctor. You had better have done more than just passed med school, you had better have actually been found to be capable of operating on or giving medical advice to the bodies of living people.

      It’s entirely possible that they might be partially motivated by the incredible expense of replacing/upgrading all the stoplights, which is unfortunate, but you’ll run into that with anyone who looks after city infrastructure anywhere. But this is FAR from an overreach. If it were up to me he’d immediately be hit with much heavier restrictions, and they likely let him off with the fine assuming that he might just be ignorant of the system in place in Canada.

      Sadly, this assumption the public makes about the requirements of becoming an engineer in Canada is like so many others, that hackers are intrinsically evil, or that routers from the store don’t contain backdoors/bugs (often because incompetence or laziness) and are secure, or that that talking barbie is actually self a self contained toy and not a linux system. You might have a different system where you’re from, but this is how ours is set up, and it’s a direct result of the disasters that have occurred here.

      Honestly, if I were to give my personal opinion, this guy picked the WRONG fight to fight. This is a governing, licencing body like any other, and it’s their exact purpose to prevent this exact crime, always has been. To make an analogy, it’s like having a shootout with the police. You can’t win against the police, because the police aren’t people; they’re an institution, like the presidency. You can’t not have a president in the same way the police (as an institution) cannot ever “loose” a fight, by definition. (police win fights not because they’re the good guys, but because loosing means that there is no absolute power of law in society) And to think, this all started over a traffic ticket.

      1. Police can lose though. Happened in Montréal in ’70. Martial law. Almost happened in the spring of 2012 in Montréal again. Happened in ukraine, 2013. If police lose they juste bring in the army. Then if they don’t win soon they have a civil war.

      2. There is a difference between a governmental licensing body and a trade guild. Like the Bar Association, it is not a government entity, yet it has made itself like a limpet on the government tit of power: Pay us or we will use force to make you pay us.

      1. Nah, it is just these tiny keyboards, especially on phones where it is easily dragged from the “F” accidentally over the “R” when trying to hit the “E”.

        We all make mistakes..
        Hackaday readers would make a good use of a throw-away number attached to an edit button with a disappear timer set to 3 minutes.

  1. Well written. A typical government agency at work. Cover your butt taken to the next level. Interesting to know that just having an engineering degree doesn’t make you an engineer — at least in certain contexts anyway. Interesting that rather than looking at the data, they just want to make him shut up.

    1. …except that licencing engineers is done world-wide and isn’t typically a government function, but an NGO-led one.
      And no, having an engineering degree doesn’t make you a Professional Engineer in Oregon, or a Chartered Engineer in the UK and Ireland or an EurIng in the EU, because in all those cases, the title you’re talking about is a professional certification given after a candidate has fulfilled both the academic requirement with their degree and the practical requirement by working in the real world for a few years and actually learning something. Some wet-behind-the-ears graduate who’s never failed in the real world *should not* have that certification by default, because they don’t know enough yet.

      And it’s such a modern thing that the roots of the certification date back to around about 1840, and the roots of the idea are buried in the apprentice/journeyman/master system from the middle ages.

      That this incident is mixed up in some libertarian 2-government-departments-bad nonsense the way it has been is a pretty sad commentary on what people actually think it is that engineers *do*.

        1. I don’t know about the EU, but in the US, the licensing requirements have an “Industrial Exemption” – which in the US typically means “interstate commerce exemption” for all practical purposes.

          If you’re contributing to a product that is sold in multiple states – you almost surely meet the requirements for the “Industrial Exemption”. This is 99%+ of corporate mechanical, industrial, software, etc. engineers.

          The most common category of engineers that don’t fit into this exemption? Civil engineers – who are almost always doing work for a municipality or a state. (Or, if their employer is federal – are in almost all cases working on a project limited in scope to a state level). That’s why PE cert is standard for most civil engineers but rare for almost any other engineering field.

          From other comments – Europe does indeed have similar licensing requirements that (for all practical purposes, but not formally) mean CivEs need to be licensed and other engineers don’t.

          In this particular case, an EE treaded upon typically CivE territory – that is, engineering at the state or municipality level.

      1. I can comment on the EU. All it means is that you have paid money to some paper pushers and (IMHO) is a complete waste of money and time. It has no bearing on your ability to do the job at all.

        I rarely call myself an engineer though I am qualified with a 1st and a Phd in electronics.

      2. You’re mixing up (at least) two things here: As an “EurIng” (whatever that is supposed to be, we have Dipl.Ing. Dr.Ing., B.Eng., M.Eng. here) you’re qualified and entitled to work in a comparable profession and call yourself an engineer.

        There’re a few special topics which require extra certification though, not just if you want to offer it professionally but some also for personal use (like if you want to connect your new home to the power grid); but in theory it’s also sufficient if someone with the required certification approves and signs off on your work.

  2. You don’t call your self a doctor because you fixed a PC…

    He should’ve demonstrated this Uploaded a video or published to a blog or forum or somewhere instead of aggravating shittycouncil types City council types..

    1. you missed the point where the man in question has an engineering degree… the fair equivalent for the medical field is if someone spends 8 years in medical school and earns an MD degree. is this person allowed to call themselves a doctor if they haven’t kept current on paying their annual dues to the state medical board?

      ps… regarding he should have been posting this in a forum. he also gave a presentation at a traffia engineers conference where everyone generally agreed with him.

      1. Doctors are licensed in the location they want to *practice*. If Mr. Engineer didn’t want to get licensed/certified/etc…, that’s his choice. Doctors/Vets are not given the same protections when they conduct themselves without appropriate licenses, same with “Engineers”.

        Lot’s of people here are just as confused about the term Engineer as the accused. He could have easily said “I have a degree in Electrical Engineering” instead of saying he is an Engineer. But he knew! He knew, it carried more weight to say he was an Engineer, even though he was unsure about the requirements to give yourself that title. Which is what it is in the USA.

          1. This is true, but 20 years not knowing about certain regulating bodies within a field you claim expertise to sway an opinion is very different his choice of words, Picky old farts just wanted to punish the man.

  3. His story is still silly. In the common lexicon of the United State, even more specifically Oregon, > 99% of the people will interpret an unqualified reference to ‘engineer’ as one who generally practices any form of engineering in a occupational capacity – not specifically a PE. Heck, I’m sure some professional locomotive association will be suing him next because he’s not their historical definition of ‘engineer’. He didn’t claim ‘I’m a professional engineer’. If I were a resident of Beaverton, I would be questioning the best use of my tax dollars… and those responsible.

    1. I always thought that was a bit pushy on the part of the state licensing boards. But it’s a matter of law in every state that I’m aware of. Electrical engineers might not be as familiar with this as other fields, because licencing isn’t as common. I could be licensed, but it isn’t relevant to my line of work. So I would be licensed in something I no longer do.

  4. I hope the bureaucrat that fined him gets fired. Speech != practicing engineering. You can call yourself an engineer all you want, it’s the application of engineering that requires a license.

    1. Y’think complaining about a PE’s work to the licencing board was some altruistic innocent move? Or an attempt to snarkily defame the PEs whose names were attached to the system?
      Dunno about you, but if I see a problem with traffic lights, I email the council that looks after them in that area, I don’t write off to the licencing board because they don’t run the traffic lights.

      1. Typical ‘crats engaged in turf protection. No attention paid to their own traffic engineers – who should lose their licence for practicing engineering without competence!! Apparently, all you need in Oregon is a documentation trail.

  5. To engineer means to fabricate a solution. What these ignorant ‘crats are doing is an abuse of civil rights.
    To practice engineering involves stating you are a Registered Professional Engineer of XXXX state/country and charging a fee for whatever you engineer.
    It is not illegal to call yourself an engineer (one who engineers), but it is illegal to practice as, charge fees as etc.

    I predict this will rebound against these crat’s against Oregon

    1. Yah there are self taught engineers such as Jerry Ellsworth and Burrell Smith who have done some good work by anyone’s standards.
      Ever look at the original Macintosh logic board?
      The design is a work of art.

    2. Exactly this goes slap in face against freedom of speech, were talking about 1st! amendment in bill of rights, you know one on the top, very touchy, he does not even need some money to take it further, all he need is lawyer passionate about constitution…They just shot themselves in the foot! What i find double corrupt is IF there is mistake in system or government exploit and he found it (being engineer or not), their way to protect and silence their own fault (or paying member’s fault) should be pursued all the way even to dismantle or fine super heavy such a fraudulent organisation!
      There is only right or wrong, they could argue with ARGUMNENTS but stiffling freedom of speech/expression is big no-no!

  6. The “title” PE was supposed to ensure the quality of the engineering work done by the individual. If you look at the exact requirements it is more about years of experience and if that individual is “loyal” to that group. It is an old law which does not at all ensure the quality (in my personal experience rather the opposite). In Europe there is no PE and the engineering is not bad there (besides VW maybe).

    1. For some people, it is recognition of their entitlement they feel is justified by a degree program, and government certification.

      For others, it is a means to hide their incompetence, lack of work ethic, and juvenile union resource abuse.

      For me, we see sanitation engineers happy to clean up the bathroom floors during flu season.

      1. I have never, ever, at any point during my entire education and subsequent career heard of or heard about this system even existing in the netherlands. None of my classmates, colleagues or employers has ever mentioned this system, or asked me if I have certified as an engineer, nor ever asked me to do so.

        Despite the netherlands being on this list of supporting this system, this is literally the first time I ever hear from this.

      2. It is not that easy for Europe. The EUR ING is a licensed grade one can get additionally after graduating in an engineering discipline. It is not necessary to get this license to call yourself engineer, afaik this is true for all countries in the EU. The EUR ING is meant and recommended as a comparable standard after graduating in different European countries. This is mostly important (not necessary!) for those who want to work in a different country than they graduated in.
        In most EU countries, maybe in all, you are allowed to call yourself engineer (or the equivalent) after graduating. In Germany this would be Ingenieur. In Germany there’s even further differentiation between Dipl.-Ing (Diplom Ingenieur), which is the classic title. The Dipl.-Ing. is mostly replaced with Bachelor and Master degrees these days. Both allow you to call yourself Ingenieur (but not Dipl.-Ing.!).

        1. In Sweden the title of “Ingenjör” (engineer) is not protected. Essentially anybody can call themselves that for any purpose. But the title of “Civilingenjör” is protected, and is not constrained to only ciliv engineering, but is applicable for any field like chemistry and mechanics. It takes five years of university studies to become a “Civilingenjör”, and it’s approximately the same as M.Sc., and is most of the time translated as that. The title only gives that you have the academic training, no membership in any organisation is needed.

          This is not the only case where it is hard to translate academic titles between languages, the same goes for doctorates and different types of professors. As the systems are different, the titles never implies exactly the same.

          1. Remarkably, this is the exact same system as in the netherlands. Just the civil part is removed. The title Ir (short for engineer) and ing (also short for the same word, but indicates a bachelor degree) are protected. They are the same level of education as bachelor and master respectively.

  7. The abuse of the word “practice” irritates me… to me, you practice something as a form of training.

    A musician “practices”, usually in private, to better understand how to control an instrument. Eventually, they walk out on stage or into a studio, and “perform”.

    As it happens, yes, I do have Engineering qualifications; both Software Engineering and Telecommunications Engineering. I don’t consider myself an “Engineer” or “Professional Engineer”. I do not call myself one. At work, they call me a “Systems Engineer”, but really, I consider myself a network administrator and programmer… I edit my email signature to reflect this (and strip off the silly legal guff saying the email “might contain confidential information”… the day it actually does, said email will say so in the subject line and first paragraph).

    As for me, I “practised” engineering when I was at university. I then “performed” engineering during my work experience (doing work on electric vehicles), and for the first year or two after until that job finished up and I moved on to where I am now, where I’m a “full stack software developer”.

    Full-stack as in Linux kernel & U-Boot porting through to web browser applications and many layers in between. I stop at designing the PCB, although in theory, I have studied how that might be done. In my home time I have designed and built PCBs, usually with low-end microcontrollers.

    In a way, I “practice” electronics at home… part of it as part of my hobby in amateur radio… but I seldom “perform” it in a professional setting. I “perform” software development as a day job, and “practice” it at home.

    I would say a medical professional is most definitely “performing” their role if I am visiting them as a patient and making use of their expertise. They might “practice” whilst on sabbatical, but I would hate to think that someone operating on me, with my life literally in their hands, is only “practising”.

      1. If the Oregon State Board of Engineers (or other such boards) can’t get used to people using the word “engineer” to describe someone who has both undertaken study in, and has performed work in, a field of “engineering”… then why should I get used to people using the word “practice” when they really mean “perform”?

        Practice implies that it’s “not the real thing”, a simulation. To use it to mean “perform” is ambiguous… and I’d expect the legal profession to understand that and be avoiding the use of the term “practice” in such situations.

        If a medical student is dissecting a cadaver to study the anatomy or to simulate performing some surgical procedure… that is practicing. No question. When they do that for real on a living human… there is no simulation… that isn’t “practicing” medicine, that’s “performing” it.

        Reading up on a medical report on someone’s past symptoms, pretending for a moment that this person was right in front of them, coming up with an assessment of what they think might have been the matter in that case… then reading on to see what was actually found out to be the problem… that is a simulation… that is not “performing” medicine, that is “practicing” it.

        There is a clear difference… and I think in this case, it should be emphasized.

          1. Hence why I specifically said: both undertaken study in, and has performed work in, a field of “engineering”.

            i.e. not everything is learned “on the job”… not everything is learned “from a textbook”. You need both.

          1. Hmm, even the Queensland law society does

            ” 4.1 A solicitor must also:
            4.1.1 act in the best interests of a client in any matter in which the solicitor represents the client;
            4.1.2 be honest and courteous in all dealings in the course of legal practice; ”

            The accepted terminology used in the professions is a bit of side show; the real issue is the role of the professions in protecting the public from professional transgressions by unqualified, incompetent or self interested individuals – I fail to see how Järlström has acted in a manner that would constitute dealing with clients while claiming to be a licensed engineer.

      1. Someone needs to do a doctor or lawyer TV show where the main character often says “I do not ‘practice’ medicine, I perform it!” or “I do not ‘practice’ law, I perform it!” “Practice is what I do when I’m learning outside the surgery/courtroom.”

    1. What is so difficult about this?

      noun: practice

      1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.
      2. repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.


      1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
      2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

  8. I can’t speak to every place, but in the US it is an additional challenge to get a PE license. Simply graduating from college isn’t enough. There is an additional experience requirement, you need letters of recommendation (which is admittedly easy if you are not a total hack), and then you need to pass an eight hour exam — this is not trivial.

    The function that I see is that it weeds out incapable engineers from licenseure and creates a framework of accountability tied to your license. The truth is that if he had been a licensed EE PE, he might have been fined MORE for practicing outside his discipline, and possibly had his license suspended.

    **tl;dr The way things actually work, if he wanted to approach things this way (basically making a complaint against the traffic engineers at the city) he would have been better off getting some buy-in from an outside traffic engineering firm. (ie actual experts in the field)**

    1. you have to pass two tests, one to become an “engineer in training” and one to become a PE. Most states now require continuing education. It’s not just a dues-paying club.

      1. In many ways they are dues paying clubs, unions, guilds etc. Back when Novell was relevant in the computer server and networking world, you could simply read their book then take a test for a one time fee to become a “Certified Novell Administrator”. I did that, got the certificate… somewhere. But to be a Certified Novell Engineer was a more expensive test plus new exams (and more money) whenever Novell felt like it and of course periodic payments just to keep your CNE current.

  9. The Professional Engineer thing is utter bull. And of course they want to protect their “special status” and look down their nose at anybody who hasn’t jumped through the bureaucratic (there is a word I wish I could spell) flaming hoops to get the piece of paper to frame on their wall. As compared with a degree, it is more about bureaucracy than ability. Of course to a lesser level the same can be said about degrees — I certainly know capable engineers without engineering degrees. The idea of course, at least at the root is to protect the innocents in society from charlatan engineers.

    Very few practicing engineers that I know have PE credentials. I am thinking of EE people working at Raytheon for example. It seems to be mostly the civil engineering and construction trades where you see PE being important.

    But all this is well and good and true, but not the real issue here, which is people finding an excuse to ignore data. And not just ignore it, but penalize the person providing it.

    1. This is actually really true, and it’s frustrating as a licensed PE in circuit design. The rules and laws are heavily geared toward civil and big project engineering with a public safety component, whereas most of what I do is tested by a compliance agency after I’m done. There are other requirements such as stamping and signing “all drawings” (in this state) which is really awkward and unclear when producing prototypes and things that can be trivially changed with the wave of an email. There is an active effort to bring in more engineering under the licensure umbrella, but the framework of law isn’t prepared for it.

  10. 1st Oregon doesn’t even think your competent enough to pump your own gas. So he shouldn’t feel too bad.

    2nd I style my own hair. However, I am not a licensed “Hair stylist.” Much like “Hair Stylist,” “Engineer” is a title. To refer to yourself as an Engineer without being a licensed Engineer is against the law. To get around that people often say things like ” I graduated with a Degree in X Engineering,”

      1. That is indeed the case in New Jersey – it’s primarily a labor law, not a safety law, done in a PROTECT ALL THE JOBS! fashion. (There might be some BS safety claims made by some proponents, but it’s primarily a labor thing.)

    1. I worked for a while in Oregon in a position where I drove a company vehicle. We fueled our trucks at an unattended cardlock station, which meant that I had to pump my own gas. This required getting “certified” for operating a gasoline pump, which meant looking at a small pamphlet and answering something like five questions at the end of it. Open-book, of course. I don’t remember what the questions are, but they could have been answered correctly by anyone who has ever read the signs posted on every gas pump.

  11. This is a subject near to my heart. I’m not a lawyer, but in Texas, if you don’t have a PE license and you represent yourself ot the public as doing engineering, you are in trouble. From what I understand, you don’t even have to use the WORD engineer. So the question becomes who decides what is engineering. Yet at many places I have been, people who do technical work get slapped with engineer titles (which is legal because it isn’t the public) mostly to justify higher hourly rates to clients.

    I actually LIKE licensure, but I typically do not like the way licensure is handled. A degree does not make you an engineer. It ought to make you a better engineer, but we all know cases where that is not true. Doing technical work does not make you an engineer, either, any more than putting band aids on people makes you a doctor.

    When I talk to school kids I always say engineering is the application of math and science to solve problems or analyze systems. So there’s an element of math, science, and creativity. I don’t think most people get that. The trick is how do you tell a competent engineer from a bad one? It isn’t easy.

    So if you had a great test that certified that this person knows how to build a bridge or program a mission critical system, etc. then I’m all for it. We’ve seen what bad programming can do in cars, for example. The problem is that too many PE boards use stupid things for a barrier to entry. So if you didn’t go to an ABET school, you have to work X more years before you can sit. Really? So no school that isn’t ABET-accredited can teach engineering? And no one can possibly learn engineering without the help of august professors in a stately school?

    So yes to competency-based licensing, board examinations, and even apprenticeships where an existing PE can evaluate your performance. But to put artificial barriers in place? I’m against it. We all know people from “smaller” schools or even the school of hard knocks who can regularly outperform Ivy League PhDs. So why penalize them because they didn’t play the game? Of course, for every great person with no degree or a “crummy” degree, there are many more who complain and want that title, but don’t deserve it. I have also seen companies award engineering titles for years of service or to jack up billing rates. That’s why competency should be king no matter where or if you went to school.

    These days we are not allowed to make assumptions about people based on their gender, their race, their age, or a host of other protected attributes.But it is ok to make assumptions about people based on where they went to school, if they went to school, if they studied online or abroad, etc. I don’t see why that’s any different. It groups everyone with what people perceive to be the statistical attributes of that class.

    1. I don’t agree about the ABET requirement, because that is how engineering schools are accredited in the US. There IS a way to get licensed in Texas without that though:
      “2. With a non-accredited degree you must have a minimum of 8 years of the same type of work required of those candidates with an accredited engineering degree.”

      And from Texas law, you ARE allowed to have the title “Engineer” as an employee under a few conditions:

      § 1001.057. Employee of Private Corporation or Business Entity
      (a) This chapter shall not be construed to apply to the activities of a private corporation or other business entity, or the activities of the full-time employees or other personnel under the direct supervision and control of the business entity, on or in connection with:
      (1) reasonable modifications to existing buildings, facilities, or other fixtures to real property not accessible to the general public and which are owned, leased, or otherwise occupied by the entity; or
      (2) activities related only to the research, development, design, fabrication, production, assembly, integration, or service of products manufactured by the entity.

      (d) For purposes of this section, “products manufactured by the entity” also includes computer software, firmware, hardware, semiconductor devices, and the production, exploration, and transportation of oil and gas and related products. “

      1. All due respect, that’s pretty circular. That’s like saying, “I don’t mind people having to be in Whig party to vote because that’s how voters are certified in Upper Slochecnik.”

        And yes, I know you can go around the accredited degree but that’s exactly my point. There is no evidence that a) all ABET schools produce quality engineers and b) no non-ABET schools produce quality engineers as well as c) no one who didn’t go to school is a good engineer. So at that point, you are just making a barrier for people who didn’t “pay the dues” to some organization. Insurance companies, by the way, do this. They can show that teen boys, for example have more accidents–statistically–then other groups so they charge more for that group. Now, granted, there is a statistical basis for that, but it still punishes people who don’t fit the stereotypes. There are careful teen drivers and wild middle-aged drivers. However, I think the connection between ABET school and good engineer is even more tenuous. So if the insurance companies said, “We are going to charge more for people with red hair, because everyone knows red headed people are prone to rashness.” That would be shut down fairly quick.

        It is a fallacy of the system that “only” proper schools can give you an education. And I say that as someone who’s been through the system. My Master’s is from Columbia (the University, not the country) so it isn’t sour grapes on my part because I didn’t go to the “right” school. It is just ironic to me that as engineers and scientists we demand proof and reject speculation. Yet, I promise you many people coming out of “fine schools” are not fit to do anything. I’m not saying most, but I”m saying it isn’t just a few outliers. There are a lot of reasons for that which is another rant.

        My point is, I interview people all the time who are not functioning by my definition of engineer. Some of them have excellent degrees, some don’t. I have also hired many fine engineers (I’m proud to say that while I don’t have a 100% track record, I have a pretty good trakc record) and some of them had fancy degrees and some of them didn’t. So why do we lose sight of engineering principles in this one narrow area? We would not say “only steel from XYZ company is usable in our project” if XYZ steel failed 25% of the time and there were other alternatives. We’d test the steel and reject what was bad from XYZ or any place else. But for education, we can’t be bothered to practice engineering, we have to blindly take the brand name. A lot of people will tell you “Ivy League” is better than other schools. Again, being a graduate from a fine Ivy League school, I call BS. In programming and life, garbage in/garbage out. School is a tool that should make you better. But that’s up to you and it isn’t the only tool. So how can the state of Texas decide that I didn’t get the right branding so I have to wait 8 years to sit for the PE? (and, again, that’s the generic “I” — I personally could).

        The same thing exists with law school, as I understand it. CA is liberal for “correspondence and online” schools. Texas is dead set against it. So if you have any law degree from CA you can’t sit for the bar in TX. So you come to TX anyway and practice Federal law. At least they aren’t SUPPOSED to be engineers.

        And, yes, I understand the employee rules, too. You just can’t represent yourself to the public as doing engineering (title or no title).

        Don’t misunderstand me. I like licensure. I just like MEANINGFUL licensure without artificial restrictions. Let compentent people obtain licenses. Prevent incompetent people from getting licenses. That’s all. Don’t presume to back one accrediting agency, school or group of schools, social class, etc. by either giving them an unfair advantage or disadvantaging people who are not in your chosen class. Sadly, that isn’t coming because very few people without the “right” paperwork make it far enough to have the gall and influence to speak out against it.

    1. The shady companies that sell them even market them as a source of income and say if they stop getting red light fines they can be upgraded to speed cameras.

    2. In Tucson, AZ, they banned the damn red light cameras. The business arrangement with the city, was that the company installs and owns the cameras and gets half of the ticket money. When they installed the cameras in Tucson, they were placed in the more affluent parts of town and the less affluent parts escaped them. But the politicians said that they were for the safety of the people… Right.

  12. This is a bloody fine double edged sword. I think his major problem is that he took the wrong approach in general. Rather than telling people what he thought using the added authority and power of claiming he is an engineer, he should have left the engineer part out and focused on the math. The simple point is that if the math was wrong then it wouldnt matter if he was an engineer or not because the math would be wrong.

    I dont believe that people who lack the professional designation should be using the term “engineer” full stop. Its like people who call them selves doctors with out being an actual registered doctor. As a member of the public i think that it is important because if a person is a registered professional then i can go to the organization and inquire about his standing/any complaints or inconsistencies which would help me judge how seriously to take his opinion on the issue he is talking about. If he is a registered PE in his home country (and up to date on his dues) then he has every right to call himself an engineer but i didn’t see any where that actually claimed he was a PE anywhere.

    these professional organizations are not just for ensuring a base line for admittance but most also have continual education requirements, which means that being an engineer is more than passing tests and paying dues.

    Now the types of work that should be considered under the engineering umbrella is a whole other debate but for the sake of this article he is not a professional engineer and should not be referring to him self as one because it falsely elevates his level of accountability and authority. There were lots of ways to address this problem, putting everyone on blast was definitely not the right way from both a professional and political standpoint.

    to quote the article:
    “That Board got wind of Järlström’s nefarious unlicensed engineering activities through a pretty direct route: he told them about it. He asked the Board to look into the traffic engineering practices in Beaverton, insisting that the city engineers were misusing traffic light timing formulas. They responded with a request that he stop practicing engineering without a license, and to stop referring to himself as an engineer without proper accreditation, lest fines and other actions be taken.”

    He was warned about it too, what is missing from the story and questions i would like to be answered:
    1. Did the board actually start an investigation into it or not? Did any one ask them?
    2. If he was right about the math being wrong why could he not have found a PE to be the front man on his crusade after he was warned?
    3. if his math was right, why did he need to refer to him self as an engineer? math is math, its either right or wrong and it based on proofs and rules.

    In the end, Professional practices are positions of authority and power, of course they are going to protect that power but by design they should be. He had no right to repeatedly call him self an engineer, if his math was right then he should have been able to go on the math alone.

    1. From my reading about the situation, he did not refer to himself as a ‘Professional Engineer’ or a ‘Licenced Engineer’, but simply as an ‘engineer’. Since he has an engineering degree, that should be perfectly acceptable. However, if he HAD referred to himself as either of the former (PE or LE), then he would justifiably be in strife.

      Lawyers love to pick on this sort of detail, and I would say (judging by his appeal) that this is where he is going to take those insolent bureaucrats to the cleaners.

  13. Govt officials got upset at someone finding they were doing something wrong, and in the current climate anyone educated is considered a threat.

    welcome to how we make America Great Again, by punishing the educated until they shut up.

    1. Your comment make it seem like you are trying to blame this on conservatives… If you read very carefully you would note that this happened in one of the most liberal states in the nation. So yeah, try again.

  14. This just makes me mad. It is the state protecting itself and being a bully going after one guy that embarrassed them. This guy uses his engineering brain and shows them up and they can’t take it so they use their licensed lawyers to go after him.

    1. Nothing annoys a bureaucrat more than someone questioning their authority even when they are knowingly in the wrong.
      It’s also well known traffic cameras don’t prevent accidents and may even cause more.

      1. Countdown timers work far better because they inform drivers approaching a green light exactly how long until it turns yellow. If there’s 3 seconds or less left I’ll usually slow up and stop, especially if cars are stopped on the cross street.

        Without the timer, you can be past the point of stopping when it turns yellow – and in some places with cameras they’ll take your car’s photo and claim you ran the light. Which is apparently the problem here. Flat out illegal ticketing of drivers who are already in the intersection when the light turns yellow.

  15. I’m a Compute Science Engineer in my country, I’m registered but this register dont implies a license neither not being registered implies being restricted neither we had to pay a fee to our union on each project delivered, only engineering fields that requires specific licensing are related to civilian structures, but even each project involving structures requires calculations to be re-checked by an qualified board before local authorities grant buildup permissions, not the same as medicine where you need besides being entitled an authorization from health bureau to be staffed as medical, but electronics and IT fields dont require license, pay fees, etc jut to work, I’m registered mostly because our engineer union owns an amazing club house they rent only to engineers at a near symbolic fee.

    As other said, seeem Oregon bureaucracy its just caring itself not the PE.

  16. Dear People of the Internet, I came here to read about how braking harder can save automobilists from the speed traps — where is it? All I see is meta-babble.

  17. The problem here is entirely bureaucracy and their need to ensure they are right, what if they let it slide? Before you know it people will be using the term engineer to describe themselves just because they fixed something using engineering skills and principles, within a few years just because someone refers to themselves as an engineer they might be allowed to build bridges and things, suppose for a moment we allowed non engineering types to build the world trade center towers, those towers would have come down in a matter of hours after those planes hit them, but luckily they were designed by proper licensed engineers. Ok better example, bridges when was the last time you heard of a bridge collapsing? Oh! Ok, Dams, dams are fairly substantial and so expensive only proper engineering types get to even look at the drawings, which is why they never go wrong!
    hail the (licenced) engineers!

  18. This is less about about the definition of what is an engineer and more about the local government getting upset that someone pointed out a flaw in their traffic camera system that was wrongfully issuing citations that is a source of income for them.

  19. Now this is what we call cultural or administrative protectionism.

    Of course the alleged motive is to safeguard the general public against botched engineering jobs – but the effect is more the opposite. Because the title provides a means of distinguishing the holder with its appearance alone, he does not need to position himself with factual quality of his work. And in effect it even distracts the general public from looking for evidence of factual quality or real proof of someone’s ability to do the job that he is payed for.

    This is nothing new and this idea is not even specific to the field of engineering.

    Instead of relying on the customers common sense to be able to choose for himself if he chooses to rely on someone’s professional titles and certifications or if he prefers to look at references or even at the gory technical details of the work itself, these bureaucratic institutions deny others the freedom to do the work they want to do in a way they seem fit without asking anyone for permission.

    I am surprised and I was not aware that you find these constructs even in the United States of America and today. I thought that it was the epitome of the American Dream that you do not have to ask anyone or any establishment for permission to choose your profession. Oh, I feel even more melancholic now.

  20. This is a whole lot of people misunderstanding how the professional engineering licensure system works in the US. It’s pretty clear that the guy filing the lawsuit doesn’t either. If he had just taken his math up there and said “THE MATH AGREES, THE TIMING IS WRONG” it would have been fine, but that’s not what he did. He went up there and said “I’M AN ENGINEER AND MY MATH SAYS THE TRAFFIC ENGINEERS ARE WRONG”.
    He improperly used the authority that comes with claiming himself as an engineer to complain about other engineers’ work.

    In most states, going in public and saying “I’M AN ENGINEER, SO TRUST ME” is limited by the state law to licensed and active engineers. Additionally, as an expert in another field (not traffic) if he had a license he could STILL be liable for making serious claims about something outside of his field of expertise.

    It’s great to have pride in your accomplishments and learning, but in the US there are extra steps if you want to use that as a credential to support your opinions.

    1. You are right, he should of stuck to the basics, “Here is the maths, timings wrong, could you investigate as you are professional engineers”.

      However, if he said, “I’m an engineer, blah, blah”, he is speaking to a board of supposed professionals, who, IMHO, should be…. Ahem…. professional. They could of mocked him and exclaimed, “You are mere engineer????!!!!”. Instead, common sense and the dolly left the pram because Yeeerh eeerhMuriceer (and Yeerh Unghlernd!!!!).

      On the other hand if he said, “I am a professional engineer”, or, “I am an engineer…. something…. professional” then, yeah…. Go after him, but still investigate his claim.

      It is up to the professionals to be… well… professional and take into account, his claim. Debunk him if need be.
      Not become childish with law throwing sounding like professionals being like, “Waaah… He looked at me funny. Bwwwaaaaaahhhh!!!!” So embarrassing to have such people in control, no wonder a storm is brewing (WW3? just how long yet) /rant

  21. Whats the problem, it doesn’t hurt anyone, you can trust me on this.

    Dr. Admiral Anne Nonymous Esquire, Engineer, Astronaut, B.A, B.Sc, Ph.D, M.D, D.M.A , IRQ

  22. The professions are society’s mechanism – essentially an insurance policy – for policing the potential for moral hazard to manifest in attending professionals enjoying an information advantage by virtue of their specialised domain specific knowledge when they are dealing with clients.

    A lack of transparency, an information advantage, unsupervised practice and sometimes power imbalance, make it easier for unscrupulous professionals to take advantage of unsuspecting, trusting clients.

    This applies to professions as diverse as medicine, law, accounting, and engineering practice.

    In return for policing minimum standards of education for admission to the profession, policing professional transgressions, and requiring appropriate continuing professional development, the professionals enjoy the ability to somewhat control supply and maintain higher prices for their services. This is the quid pro quo society tacitly accepts in return for the protections afforded by a professional code of conduct policed by members of the profession.

    The problem in this scenario is that the professional sanction being applied to Järlström in no way relates to Järlström providing professional services to a client in return for a fee.

    If he has not

    – engaged in professional practice with clients,
    – advertised his professional services, and
    – he has not engaged in professional misconduct

    the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying really has nothing substantive to police, other than the use of a title which may (IANAL) be protected In that jurisdiction, i.e. similar to the way that “doctor” or “paramedic” are protected titles in various jurisdictions.

    Nothing stops an unlicensed but degree qualified doctor pointing out that they are a doctor – it is only when they start treating someone that there is a role for licensing and professional oversight, because that is the point at which protections for the client and wider community become necessary.

  23. It should also be pointed out that members of a profession, being told that they are idiots presiding over a flawed system by another similarly qualified person, are the very antithesis of the vulnerable clients that the professions are supposed to protect.

    They, of all people, are able to weigh the merits of the argument proffered, by virtue of their training, and do not lack the domain specific knowledge required to assess the worth of the claim.

    A licensed professional rejecting criticism by going on the offensive with claims of “you’re not qualified to comment”, is arguably more of a danger to the public than the unlicensed individual raising concerns.

  24. Yo Oregon! This is my middle finger (actually both of them!) I have over four and a half decades experience “thinking without a license”. I wouldn’t live in your lame assed state if you offered me a free residence. This just makes you look silly in the perception of the rest of the world.

    1. I am a fully paid-up member of the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Professional Thinking Persons, and I will remind you that our Brothers and Sisters are the ones who own this field, and the rest of you had better either sign up, or leave the thinking to the professionals.

      1. Concatenated order of Hoo Hoo, Old Crows, NCSL and NASA license to solder…. not to mention countless mfg repair seminars from Atari, Balley, Seeburg, HP, Tek, Harris, Larcan etc.

  25. I’m not a licensed engineer, but I have played one on TV now for 20+ years. I have designed hundreds of electronic systems and been through FCC testing >10 times now for high power RF designs. I understand the engineer title thing, but it really is awkward sometimes when you are trying to put your best foot forward and you can’t claim to be an engineer when your qualifications make most EE qualifications look pale by comparison. Yes, I did have 6 years of education in electronics, but on-the-job experience and a drive to learn something new everyday for decades is really what has made my career work for me. From here on out, I will never use the title “engineer” to describe my profession. I have changed my official title to “33rd level god of electrons”. I think that will help ensure that I continue to get lucrative contracts without having to worry about offending any of those people who went through a 4-or-more year university education.

    1. Yes, 33rd, this is the best response yet: if the “guild” takes over ownership of a word, just make a new word. If all of the non-PE makers of things by using math agree on the new word, after a while nobody is looking for the old word. “No, we don’t want an engineeer for this project – we need a god of electrons, preferably above 30th level.”

  26. You can call yourself whatever you want as you are privately employed by a company that accepts your credentials.

    For legal opinions, etc., engineer is a protected title.

    The rest of you are hilarious.

    You are expecting fairness from a state board that allows Red Light Cameras to ticket you automatically, whose budget is likely buffeted by these tickets.

    It’s really difficult to make someone understand something when their livelihood depends upon not understanding it.

    You want a change? Find a candidate who will rip those suckers out and go support him / her.

    I for one am thrilled by the opinions of Bill Nye “Mechanical Engineer” guy.

  27. This is exactly why my employer changed my title to “33rd-level god of electrons”. I’m not an engineer, but I have played one on TV for the past 20+ years.

    1. Good question. I believe this way he would have succeeded both at not getting in trouble with the law and gaining the required credibility (anyone would have dug a bit more only to find he was qualified enough). I didn’t think of this, and I totally agree with you.

  28. So much noise in the comments… I can’t yet find confirmation of the following, but I suspect that the problem is something along the lines of saying publicly “I found a problem in your traffic light timing; you should listen to me because I’m an engineer”…. which implies to most Oregonians that he’s on a professional par with the Licenced Engineers (TM) who specified the timings. Which isn’t true.

    Put another way… would he be in the same trouble if he simply spoke up about the traffic light problem, provided figures or whatever to back it up,and if questioned, he could have said that he has an engineering degree? As far as I know you don’t need licences to complain about traffic lights, run a stopwatch, or do math.

    I dropped out of EE before Mark Zuckerberg was in diapers. My current position is “Software Engineer”. Shhh. Don’t tell, ok?

  29. I was planning to travel to Oregon in August to make scientific observations of the eclipse but I am not a licensed and certified Astronomer. So Idaho, here I come!

  30. Since when do you have to have a license to state an opinion, point out a flaw in something? All he did was tell the State what he found, and ask them to investigate. Before I retired, I worked in the aviation industry. People who put pride before good practice kill other people. Believe me, I’ve seen it.

  31. My ID card states I am an Engineer. It doesn’t state what field I am qualified in, but it says “Civil Engineer”. I guess it’s time for me to get that deleted before visiting Oregon.

  32. I wonder if Paul Horowitz is a registered member of the Oregon board. If not, I guess they should issue him a fine too for claiming to be an engineer and selling the “Art of electronics” book in their area. Furthermore, do the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying get their engineering knowledge and information only from other Oregon registered engineers? Clowns…

  33. Interestingly, the purview of this so-called board is for ROAD & TRAFFIC ENGINEERING only, and has nothing to do with electronics or any other field of engineering. Great example of puffed-up bureaucrats self-elevating themselves and asserting and assuming authority over something they have no experience or rightful business to be in.

    Yep, we live in a land where I can self identify as a 4-year old school girl or a transgender trash panda, but dare not I speak the word ‘engineer’ in self reference to thy holiness, Lord of Traffic and Cones and potholes…

  34. I am sure standards bodies and professional organizations may have been started with ‘good intentions’ but like they say, ‘The road to hell is paved with bureaucracies having supposedly benevolent intentions!’ I’m thoroughly convinced that now, they simply exist to extort money and limit competition. Somehow, we have gotten to the point where it is OK for one private organization to be in a position of power such that they are able to force other private organizations and citizens to comply with their decree unquestionably, and pay them outrageous sums of money; All this without any representation, as if they were a totalitarian government or law making body. Agencies like CTIA, PTCRB, USB-IF, ISO and others are just a few examples. We must be worse off than any of us thought! The bureaucracies are becoming sentient!

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