Member Forum by Brent Fraser

ISE's quarterly column for IISE members to share their perspectives (December 2018)

Titles are deceiving, and PE licenses can clarify

Engineering manager, program manager, data architect, project engineer, operations manager, process engineer, quality specialist, systems analyst, chief operating officer, consultant ... my resume is littered with titles like these and more. Industrial engineers just don’t seem to be called industrial engineers much, and many of our titles do not even contain the word “engineer.”

I once told a previous professor, who happened to be president of IISE at the time, that I no longer worked as an industrial engineer. He quickly and convincingly corrected how I view my career. We are all industrial engineers. Most of us would have to work hard to prevent our inner engineer from expressing itself, regardless of the job, regardless of the title. Professional engineer (PE) licensure identifies you as an engineer no matter what your job is called.

Professional licensure from the pens of PEs

Read this: Four professional engineers explain why all that work getting a PE is worth it.

People who know you can probably pick you out of the career lineup, pegging you as the engineer every time, but what about people who have never seen you in action? Careers tend to evolve. At some point, the person holding your next opportunity will only know you as a name on a paper. Engineers are in demand, especially experienced engineers, because of the way we think. What are the chances that the hiring manager will know that the supply chain analyst on that paper is an engineer?

I stumbled into my PE license, in a way. Back then, my boss would only approve training expenditures that resulted in a license or certification of some kind. I scoured the IISE website and found a PE prep course. Given that I passed the fundamentals of engineering (FE) as I graduated years earlier, it sounded like a winner. Even though the course wouldn’t result in a license, I committed to pursuing licensure, and my boss committed to funding the training.

That week of training at IISE was intense. Above all, I came away knowing what I needed to study. Being a new father and, frankly, afraid of the exam, I decided to take a leisurely year to study and complete my licensing application. As I spent hours solving a single problem on the practice test, I heard echoes of “six minutes per question is all you have.” I was terrified. A year after taking the prep course, I arrived to take an eight-hour exam and finished with hours to spare. I’m sure the preparation helped, but it was clear that my fear was not justified. A few months later, I was granted the right to put “PE” after my name. I think my title at the time was integration manager.

Fast forward several more years. The economy wasn’t doing too well, but it was time for a career evolution. I knew I was headed into a career field dominated by nonengineers. At my first annual review in my new job, I asked my boss what set me apart. He told me he saw those two letters at the end of my name. I don’t think he was looking for an engineer to fill the position until he saw those two letters.

When I decided to start down the licensure path, I had no idea how impactful those two letters would be.

Brent Fraser is an engineer with 14 years of federal civil service, 10 as a licensed professional engineer. He holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Arkansas and an M.S. in industrial and systems engineering from Virginia Tech. He can be contacted at bdfrase@yahoo.com.

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