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FE/PE. How necessary for advancement?

  1. Jun 3, 2014 #1
    I have a bachelors and masters in mechanical engineering and am wondering how necessary the PE license process is for progression. I have not taken the FE yet (but will this year) and feel it would be the next thing to help me progress.

    What is your feeling on this? Have you personally found it to be critical?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 3, 2014 #2

    D H

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    It depends very much on the field in which you work, who you work for, and what you do. Fields that are local in nature, yes you are going to need that professional certification. It's not so important in fields of a national or international flavor, but even there some employers still prefer those engineers who do have that professional certification.

    Finally, suppose you do work in one of those fields but you are doing local work (e.g., designing and building the test infrastructure for testing rocket engines). Oftentimes, there is no professional engineer seal with regard to the rocket engine itself. That professional certification means nothing when disasters can mean billions of dollars in losses. Losses of those magnitude are a bit above and beyond the concerns of PE licensing. An individual could not afford a personal insurance policy that covers a billion dollar loss. The test infrastructure -- that's different. It's design and construction needs a professional seal.
  4. Jun 3, 2014 #3
    To give specific examples of D H's post: If you design a drawbridge, you need a PE. If you design a crane, you need a PE. If you design systems for use aboard ships, you need a PE. If you design a large mixer for a petrochemical treatment plant, you need a PE. If you design specialized mining equipment, you need a PE.

    Note that a PE also carries certain legal connotations. For example, the PE is a very quick and obvious way to declare expertise and act as an expert witness in the eyes of the law.

    That said, despite whatever the NCEES and other engineering societies may say, the PE not really a mark of competence. The PE is basically a professional handle that can by used by judges and attorneys to assign responsibility. That is your stamp and your personal liability on each and every design you build. It does not mean that you know what you're doing. I have seen some truly awful designs with PE stamps on them. It means you have enough documented experience and character to be able to make a good design --not that you are competent to produce a good design. At the end of the day, you have to be the one who decides what is competence and whether your name belongs on a design.
  5. Jun 3, 2014 #4
    It baffles me that any engineer wouldn't bother to grab the designation. I've seen what's required in the US, I've seen people go through it, and it isn't a lot of fun. . . but in the grand scheme of things it's a small investment.

    I suppose in some jobs there may not be the opportunity.
  6. Jun 3, 2014 #5
    The hardest part of the PE was applying for it, finding four other PE certificate holders to say "He's a jolly good fellow" and one to sponsor me. The other part was the exam. It was an eight hour open book exam, proctored in a hall with armed guards (!). It was not easy, but it was reasonable.
  7. Jun 3, 2014 #6
    I didn't get my PE, but did pass the FE

    If you have aspirations to run your own design firm, a PE is a necessity. Otherwise, an MBA may actually help more in career advancement.

    PE as mentioned previously is just a way to get sued pretty easily. Civil, EE, MechE, ChemE all have opportunities to work in design firms, so OP it's up to you.

    In normal industry (plants, refineries, oil rigs) there are no PEs that I've seen.

    HOWEVER, I'd recommend passing the FE. It's the first and easiest step that isn't that painful. And then decide in 5 years if a PE is worth it.

    My 2ยข
  8. Jun 3, 2014 #7
    Those requirements often vary from state to state. Some states demand that there be an engineer with a PE certificate managing the place. Others, perhaps not so much.

    Here in Maryland, most public works projects of any sort are managed by someone with a PE who is ultimately responsible.
  9. Jun 3, 2014 #8


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    Most engineers don't get a PE because they don't necessarily need one in order to practice.

    If you work in an engineering firm which has at least one person on staff with a PE, an engineer can be considered to be working under the direction of the PE.

    If you want to call yourself an engineer, then state law will probably require that you be a PE. Same if you want to open an engineering firm.

    One big reason a lot of engineers don't get the PE in the states is that licensure is on a state-by-state basis. If, for example, you get your PE in Iowa, and you decide to take a job in California, your PE from Iowa won't be recognized automatically in California. You can apply for what is known as reciprocity, where you ask the California licensing board to accept your Iowa credentials.

    It used to be that if your original PE certification came from one of the bigger states, like New York or California, receiving reciprocity from the other states would largely be a formality, but going from a small state to a big state, recognition of your original credentials would not be automatic.

    I believe that the NCEES has been trying to nationalize the scope of PE certification in the US, so that these 'Catch-22' situations would be eliminated.

    Now, too, one can receive PE licensure in many different types of engineering. It used to be that the FE was split between Mechanical and Civil engineering. If you were neither of those, you had to do extra preparation for the test. Now, with other types of engineering recognized for PE status, there are different tests more closely tailored to the candidate engineer's educational background.

    One interesting aside: I'm a naval architect, and naval architecture is one of the new disciplines which can receive PE certification in some states. However, building architects reportedly objected to NAs with PEs calling themselves naval 'architects', because they hadn't gone through the process the AIA uses to certify architects. You can still get a PE in NA, but you have to call yourself something besides a 'naval architect'.
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