Why is my Career in a Holding Pattern
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
So "Engineer" is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the professional work environment. At some point and time, someone figured out that instead of giving their employees a pay raise, they could give them a "promotion" with a fancy-sounding title instead. Am I going to work every day as a janitor for $8.97 an hour? Or would I rather do the same job for the same pay and get called a sanitation engineer? People do this for every job but it seems like the word engineer is a very common adder to make people feel important:
Programmer = Software Engineer
Video game testers = Gameplay Engineer
Public Relations = Perception Engineer
Quality Control Tester = ServiceTest Engineer
General Data Entry = Growth Engineer
Train Driver = Engineer (just kidding, they deserve the title)
Those are just a few of the examples that I found in a quick search on LinkedIn. Some of us however actually when to college and got degrees specifically for engineering. Upon graduating we are actually officially only recognized as engineers in training. The process to be recognized by the United States government as an actual engineer has a few more steps. Namely the Professional Engineering Examination.
First, you have to have gotten your engineering degree at an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology) accredited college and passed the FE. The FE, or Fundamental Engineering Examination if your not a fan of shorthand, is a 6 hour-long test designed to show that you got what you were supposed to out of your college experience. It can be taken specifically for your discipline of engineering (Erin got a mechanical engineering degree and took the ME FE) or as a general exam. The general exam is geared towards people who are planning on trying to earn their license in a discipline other than what they went to college for (like me).
Next, you are expected to work in the engineering field for 4 years under a licensed PE (a state-recognized engineer) to develop practical experience. In Kansas, you have to submit your experience, including a review from the PE you worked under and at least two other PE's that have worked with you on projects. And trust me, they do not like it if you are related to the PE you worked under. If the board approves your submittal you are given a 1 year period during which you can sit for the professional engineering exam.
Now you better get studying because this is an 8 hour long, 80 question test that covers an entire sector of engineering. It has been 4 years since college so you are not going to remember any of the math required to do these problems longhand, not to mention all the stuff that you never see at your day job. The NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying)[sorry there are a lot of acronyms in the engineering field] hosts the exams and they recommend studying for around 100-400 hours to take the test. Most people I know that have taken and passed the exam put in closer to the lower end of that scale with none of them going over 130 hours of prep.
And this is the part where I would tell you about the actual test itself if I could. However yesterday I found out that the examination has been canceled due to COVID for the second time, the first being back in April. From January to March this year, I had studied for roughly 65 hours total before they announced the cancellation of the exam. It was not to be rescheduled, so that meant that everyone planning to take it would have to reschedule for the fall and try to remember all the information they crammed in their heads for another 177 days till they could get the chance to test their knowledge and at least a little their luck. Well, all of our cumulative luck must have come up short, as the examination has canceled once again. I was only 20 or so hours into studying this time. The test is not being rescheduled now, at least not as it has been in the past. It is going to be changed from a pen and paper test to a computer-based test that can be taken on an individual basis. The plan has always been to make this change eventually but it is going to happen a lot faster than anyone one was planning. The biggest concern is a change in the rules. The PE has always been an open book, open note test. That is how we studied for it. That is how they told us to study for it. With the change to the computer-based test it sounds like the plan is to make it closed book; no notes. That is a completely different test we are talking about now. I don't know about anyone else but I find that terrifying. Was all that time that I spent preparing in vain? Am I starting back at square one as far as studying goes? I have already lost days worth of time I could have spent with my kids, what if they just cancel the test again. There is a lot of unknowns for a group of people that are generally looked to when others need answers.
To add insult to injury for all the people waiting to take the exam, their professional lives are being delayed. We don't just take the PE to feel good about ourselves. It is a significant step in our careers. A professional engineering license isn't something that is easy to get and companies generally realize the value it brings to the table. There are raises and promotions waiting for the people that manage to pass that test. According to the National Society of Professional Engineers, engineers with a license make $5000 more per year than their non-licensed peers. What would you do with an extra $5000 a year (other than paying more taxes)?
Coming back to studying after the first cancelation was hard enough, I am not sure how I am going to do it after a second one. I am sure that with the support of my amazing wife I will make it through but I know there are hundreds of other people of there right now feeling the same thing I am feeling right now. Like you have been kicked in the stomach. If you are one of those people reading this, we are all going to find a way to get through this. We are engineers, we solve problems.
I hope this post has found you in good health and of a sound mind. I am just another confused father from Kansas wondering ...
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