Discussion Thread

Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

  • 1.  Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-16-2022 10:26 AM

    I was browsing some jobs recently, and I came upon a number of positions with the word "engineer" in it that didn't seem to be in traditional keeping with the title "engineer."

    For example, some of the responsibilities for an "overnight engineer" at a hotel included cleaning carpets and changing lightbulbs (please feel free to make a joke about how many engineers it actually takes to change a lightbulb while we're here).

    Other titles that had similar duties in the hotel industry appeared to be "Engineer 1", "Maintenance Engineer", and "Hotel Engineer".

    Before I go further, I am going to be clear that I am not attempting to disparage any person or job or imply that one has more intrinsic value than another.  Many jobs such as these exist in the world and are much more physically grueling and mentally stressful than many places where one may be employed in some capacity as a design engineer or related. That is not the direction I wish to take this conversation.

    However, I do want to hear from others (although posting in an engineering forum may contain obvious biases) about their thoughts on the widespread use of the title "engineer".

     

    Below are some of the questions that crossed my mind while thinking about this.

    • Is the title being misunderstood?
    • Is it being intentionally misrepresented?
    • Should the word "engineer" convey some particular meaning?
    • Should it carry the expectation that one is able to perform some level of technical thinking and possess some general understanding of science?
    • Would any type of inflexible definition such as this end up excluding too many individuals?
    • Should the word be left open to general use and adapted, as its use has already morphed and changed over time in response to advances in technology and civilization?

    In summary, my question is essentially this: is the unrestricted designation of "Engineer" in so many different jobs detrimental to the profession or misleading to the general public?



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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 2.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-21-2022 08:57 AM
    As I was unpacking the truck in Washington, DC this past week, an employee of the hotel introduced himself as the engineer with the hotel. He went on to explain that he had not graduated from college but was the head engineer there. His father, like my own, had taught him to work with drywall, electrical, drywall, plumbing, etc. I never identified myself as a structural engineer. In fact, I did a lot of listening and nodding of my head. He stated that his problem-solving ability got him the job.
    The next day, as the HVAC, was not properly cooling the room, the front desk said that they would send an engineer to check things out. A different engineer came to the room and addressed the cooling issue.

    In my opinion, the term "engineer" is being used to convey a degree of importance, honor, respectability, integrity and positive imagery to employees, clients and/or customers. Folks probably feel a whole lot better knowing that the "engineer" is coming to solve the issue.

    Engineers pride themselves on being problem-solvers.

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Note: My first recollection of the term "engineer" is associated with the individual driving the train. I am curious as to whether "engine" is the root word.

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    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
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  • 3.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-22-2022 11:58 AM
    This topic peaked my interest because just the other day at work one of my coworkers commented that the "Network Engineers" for the communications department (TV, internet, and phone) are not part of the engineering department.  They are the only "engineers" for our utility that aren't.  Engineer may be the right title for them, but I don't think that it would make sense for them to be part of the engineering department.  The type of work and qualifications they have for their work is very different from the civil and electrical engineers and the engineering techs.

    I have been finding also recently that etymology of words is something I really enjoy.  So, I've found your answer James.  Both engineer and engine have the same root Latin word, but the root word existed far before the engine existed.  The Latin word ingenium is the main origin for each and it means talent or device.  It originally referred more commonly to tools or weapons, making the longer form refer to the designer or constructor of tools and weapons.  It seems to me like the root of both aligns more with our current definition of engineer, with the root being "product of ingenuity" and "er" making engineer the person or process of coming up with the "product of ingenuity".





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    Nancy Simpson P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Muscatine Power & Water
    Muscatine IA
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  • 4.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-23-2022 01:11 PM
    Thanks for sharing Nancy!

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 5.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-23-2022 04:23 PM
    Nancy, thank you, thank you, and thank you. You can work with me anytime and anywhere. I love the breakdown.
    The definition is often linked to or based on the "education" along with the when, where and how received. The more I think about it, the more I question my own thinking. Is an engineering education limited to the theoretical or are the lessons you learn in the field enough to earn the title of engineer?
    The biggest challenges to those with field training may be the ability to "prove" via written text when the number of field experience is not an acceptable written or documented response; more especially so when things go wrong.
    A rose by any other name is still a rose. However, one may be able to call another flower a rose, but that may not be a challenge until assigning worth or a need specific to the rose is required.
    Thanks again!!!!

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    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
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  • 6.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-28-2022 01:32 PM
    Thanks for sharing you research. I knew implicitly that 'Ing' at the end of someone's name (predominately Europe) designated that they were an an engineer but never stopped to ask why. Shame on me.

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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 7.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-22-2022 10:21 AM
    Engine is the root word.  As in military engine or siege weapon, like a catapult.  Civil engineering followed with non-military applications.  As the steam age came to be, engineer was a very appropriate title to those on locomotives and ships.  Not only did they pilot the locomotives and ships, but they maintained and operated the engines.  It was not as easy as calling NAPA for parts either, they had to make them.  History is peppered with stories of train and ship disasters, with the engineers primarily responsible for passenger safety.  So I would say that locomotive operators, engine room mechanics, and Scotty from Star Trek can all lay claim to the title engineer as it is historic and appropriate.

    In my house hunt, I viewed a house built in the 1950's and when I saw the HVAC system, I remarked "this looks like the boiler room of the Titanic."  But, I think applying the term to an HVAC technician is a stretch.  Mechanical engineers design MEP systems, but are not typically responsible for their installation and maintenance.

    I believe the term engineer is widely misused.  We need to elevate the terms Technician, Surveyor, Detailer, Drafter, Mechanic... and acknowledge that professionalism is an attribute that any worker can demonstrate.  This requires honesty on behalf of the employer and employee.  The customer is generally satisfied when they are treated fairly, no matter the title.

    I wonder if we need to look at our prefix closer: Civil and Professional (in caps) are too general.  Thus, there is a push to license as Structural, but that has it's own meaning as well.  Are there any surveys that tell us how the general public or clients perceive the suffix. P.E.?  The general public generally holds C.P.A., Esq., and M.D. in high regard... do they know what P/E. stands for and means in regard to services?  Perhaps we need more awareness on mainstream and social media.

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    Chad Morrison P.E., F.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 8.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-23-2022 01:10 PM
    Thanks Chad, you make some interesting points about the need to raise not only awareness, but also the understanding that there is no reason a role marketed as "Technician" rather than "Engineer" is any less professional or important.

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 9.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-22-2022 11:58 AM
    It depends on the State. When I heard the maintenance employees in NYC hotels were called engineers, I looked at the board rules for the state of NY and it appears they are allowed to call themselves "engineers". However, here in Texas the general term engineer (with a few exceptions like the driver of fire engines), the term is legal reserved for Professional Engineers (PE). Since each State has the power to set the rules, they can define engineer anyway they see fit (including historic uses of the term). Also, I personally called myself an "engineer" when I was an EIT, and now I call myself a "Licensed Engineer" or "Professional Engineer" post PE.

    I am more concerned about licensed PE's stepping outside their area of competence where the public is unaware of the nuances in the subspecialties, rather than someone thinking a hotel engineer can design a beam for them.

    Ben B
    Structural PE (Texas)

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    Benjamin Bialas A.M.ASCE
    Richmond TX
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  • 10.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-23-2022 01:11 PM
    Thanks, thats an excellent point. It is probably easier to use one's status as a Professional Engineer to convince someone else that one is competent in an area that they actually aren't than it is to explain a job and then sell a title that doesn't really go with it.

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 11.  RE: Ubiquitous Use of the Word "Engineer"

    Posted 06-28-2022 04:12 PM
    When asked ...
    When I was in college, I became and introduced myself as a "Civil Engineering Student".
    When employed as a cooperative education student, I introduced myself as a "Civil Engineering Co-op".
    When I passed the E.I.T. exam aka FE exam, I added E.I.T to the end of my name when writing, but while in school I still used "Civil Engineering Student".
    When I graduated from college, I had a job. The company hired and gave me the title "Civil Engineer", I called myself a "Civil Engineer".
    When in Grad school, I used "Engineer"
    When I passed the P.E., still used "Engineer" but added P.E. when writing. Depending on the situation, I introduced myself as a "Professional Engineer"  or "Licensed Professional Engineer".
    I used the word licensed professional due to my own thoughts that anyone getting paid to perform a job or service is defined as a "professional".

    ------------------------------
    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
    ------------------------------