Have you been watching this whole dustup with the Equifax CISO, and how people are saying that she is unqualified because, instead of a Computer Science degree, she had an MFA in music composition? Not surprisingly, there’s a massive backlash from the IT community, much of which doesn’t have a computer science degree, either. That’s part of the appeal of technology for many — on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. I’m a mutt, too. I’ve always found computer science programs intentionally inaccessible, with the faculty actively eschewing any form of practical curricula because they’re not a technical college. Snobbish? Yeah. Not my style.
What I find very interesting in all of this is the ignorance of some of the folks throwing rocks in this debate (surprising, I know). I’m particularly interested in a word that many have in their titles: engineer.
I live in the United States, in the state of Wisconsin, and as with many other states we actually have law that sets a legal definition of engineering:
WI 443.01 (6) “Practice of professional engineering” includes any professional service requiring the application of engineering principles and data, in which the public welfare or the safeguarding of life, health or property is concerned and involved, such as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning, design, or responsible supervision of construction, alteration, or operation, in connection with any public or private utilities, structures, projects, bridges, plants and buildings, machines, equipment, processes and works. A person offers to practice professional engineering if the person by verbal claim, sign, advertisement, letterhead, card or in any other way represents himself or herself to be a professional engineer; or who through the use of some other title implies that he or she is a professional engineer; or who holds himself or herself out as able to practice professional engineering.
Does the work of an information technology professionals affect the public welfare? I think the Equifax case is example enough: yes. Do IT professionals safeguard life, health, or property? Absolutely. In fact, information technology touches most of what is defined in this statute.
It gets more interesting in 443.02 (02):
WI 443.02 (02) No person may practice architecture, landscape architecture, or professional engineering in this state unless the person has been duly registered.
443.04 and 443.09 cover how you become registered. In short, you need an engineering degree from a school accredited in such topics, and you need to pass a written or written & oral examination.
So what happens if you don’t do this, and call yourself a professional engineer anyhow?
443.18 Penalties; law enforcement.
(1) Unauthorized practice; penalty.
(a) Any person who practices or offers to practice architecture, landscape architecture, or professional engineering in this state, or who uses the term “architect,” “landscape architect,” or “professional engineer” as part of the person’s business name or title… may be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500 or imprisoned for not more than 3 months or both.
A man in Oregon was recently fined $500 for doing just this: claiming to be an engineer in a public forum despite not being licensed to practice in Oregon. Specious? In that case, maybe. But if we’re going to throw rocks over CS degrees let’s get serious and enforce the actual laws around engineering, too. Especially if you are designing, building, and/or operating systems that affect others. If one type of engineer isn’t allowed to build an unsafe bridge, skyscraper, or canal, has a mandatory code of ethics, and has to go to hell and back to be licensed why do others with none of this training or effort get to use the title while they build & operate unsafe and unethical systems?
Frankly, it’d be easy to find offending folks. Start by dredging job boards and looking for postings that have names like “Site Reliability Engineer” or “Network Engineer” or “Systems Engineer” or “Software Engineer.” I bet even Equifax has some “engineers.” From there, it’s a subpoena or two and a $500-a-pop form letter. Maybe even some injunctions against organizations, too, for their use and tolerance of unlicensed engineers.
A small price to pay to ensure unqualified people aren’t endangering the public welfare. Right?