I am not a lawyer. The words below are my opinions rooted in common sense, and not my familiarity with common law. That said, if I’m wrong here (I think you can see where this is going), a LOT of stuff has to change in the worlds of IT employment, community, textbooks, and parlance.
Derius, a Heavy Networking podcast listener AFAIK, asks,
Is it illegal to be called “engineer” without having an engineering degree? My co-worker told me that in California you can get into trouble having engineer title without going through an engineering program. What are your thoughts on that?
Some engineers are called engineers because they went through a rigorous education and certification process recognized in their industry. And thus, they are a civil engineer or structural engineer or materials engineer or aerospace engineer, etc. The stuff they do tends to affect lives, and so the title of engineer is not awarded until a bunch of other people agree it’s deserved.
Engineers in those disciplines sometimes take exception to IT engineers being called such, as there is no industry-wide course of study, journeyman process, or single certification program that one follows to become a network engineer, cloud engineer, or security engineer. That’s too bad, honestly, but I don’t see the current system changing without IT vendors getting on board. Vendors won’t do that, because there’s nothing in it for them–no loss to be prevented, no market share to be gained.
Therefore, we IT practitioners mentor each other as best as we can. We do a lot of on the job training. We go through some vendor training and cert programs. Along the way, enough of us figure out what we’re doing well enough to become competent IT engineers. In that context, the sacred-to-some title of “engineer” is bestowed on humans who didn’t earn the designation, at least not in the same way that other engineering disciplines do.
Even so, in IT, the role of engineer is a recognized job title most of us are familiar with. A job description of “IT engineer” generally describes a mid-tier role. IT engineering is not operations nor is IT engineering design or architecture, although there’s some spillover. Rather, IT engineering falls in between. IT engineers are usually the folks on the IT team most intimately familiar with specific technologies. IT engineers understand how to assemble those technologies to deliver a reliable service. Nothing in that description implies that a network engineer is an engineer in the same sense that a civil engineer is.
Okay, but is calling oneself an “engineer” in the IT sense illegal?
I suppose that It Depends™ is in play here, but I doubt it. My non-lawyer self observes that searching for California network engineering jobs on Indeed returns a lot of hits. You’d think if it was illegal, that wouldn’t happen. Someone would have noticed by now.
Not all engineers are the same sorts of engineers, just like not all folks who call themselves doctors are the same sort of doctor. If I call myself a network engineer, that’s distinct from claiming I’m a civil engineer. If I was pretending to be a civil engineer when I’m not, I suspect that’s illegal. If I called myself a medical doctor but have no formal training, that’s presumably illegal, too. If I were to practice law after being disbarred, that’s illegal as far as I know. But to use the word “engineer” to describe what I do in IT? The term is used too widely in IT, and no one mistakes an IT engineer as one practicing other engineering disciplines that use the word more rigorously.
The word in front of the word “engineer” sets the context and makes all the difference.
Ed Horley published a follow up article What’s In A Title? Network Engineer Vs. Professional Or Licensed Engineer that explains this issue with more detail. You should read it!