“Engineers” in the US

During the course of a dinner last night, a “canadianism” was brought to my attention that I was quite unaware of. A friend of a friend who is working at Google mentioned that the project he is working on is “quite small”. When I asked what “quite small” meant, he responded with “about 100 engineers”. Wow, I thought. “If this project has 100 engineers, how many software developers does it have?”, I asked naively. He responded that, in the US, software developers ARE engineers. It is just the language. If you develop software, you say you’re an engineer. Of course they mean SOFTWARE engineer, but I note that this first part is omitted by default.

In Canada, the word “Engineer” is a professional term reserved for professional engineers. These are people who have a special P.Eng. designation, and who put their designation on the line whenever they sign off on a project. Engineering is a profession, like doctor or lawyer. Just as you cannot practice law without being a lawyer, you can’t be an engineer without your certification.

Software Engineering, though it exists, is not a profession in the same sense, and it perhaps never will be. The absence of an official designation appears to have led to a dilution of the term to the point where it has no meaning. All these years, when people have asked me what I do, I have always responded with “Software Developer”. Apparently, when talking to Americans, I can now call myself an engineer.

If I were a real engineer, I’d take offense. But I’m a software developer, so I’ll take engineer.

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