Should I get a PE license?

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly upwards mobile in my career (yet). I’m actually very happy where I am right now, learning as much as I can and progressing through the rigorous on the job learning and tribulations I’ve been experiencing so far. However, the sign of a good career path is one where you are surrounded by people who both push you and are good role models for you. I am lucky to be in such a situation and as such, am thinking about getting my Professional Engineer (PE) certification.

This is actually not as common for electrical engineers as it is for other engineering disciplines. For example, most civil engineers can’t touch anything until they have obtained their certification. With the recent bridge disaster in Minneapolis, I can’t say I really object to this. However, just today I was talking with 2 of the 4 PEs at my company, both of whom happen to be in my group, and both were very convincing on reasons why it’d be good for a young engineer to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (or FE, the qualifying exam).

  1. Use it or lose it
    • Even the sites about the FE exam say it: The sooner you take the exam after school, the higher likelihood of passing it. It makes sense. You’re closer to your exam-taking, all-night-cramming, super-stressed-out days of engineering school. Once you enter the practically driven world of the workplace (as opposed to “academically driven”, to put it nicely), you lose some of those skills and they are hard to get back.
  2. Self-employment
    • Aside from the bridge builders and the others who need a PE to sign off on stuff, working as a consultant or a contractor sometimes requires that you have a PE (as an electrical engineer). As I’ve written before, self-employment is an eventual goal of mine, so that’s another reason to consider this.
    • Many power companies actually require that their engineers have their PE. This is because they work “directly for the people” and because the engineers sometimes actually work as contractors for the power company. Oh, and the stuff they make can really kill people quickly, forgot about that.
  3. Feather in the hat
    • As one of the two engineers I was talking to put it, “If you have 100 electrical engineers in a room and ask who has a PE, maybe two will step forward”. Great point. This is a way to show that you’re capable of achieving AND that you’re willing to stand behind your designs. As I really love reading about (and how this blog kind of came to be), careers these days are all about branding and a PE just helps strengthen your brand.

I could tell myself I’d wait until after grad school, but let’s be honest: grad school is about graduating and getting the paper. I think any time I take this exam, I would need to study pretty far in advance. So why not now?

1 Comment

  1. Take the FE and PE if you are still a young guy. I went after mine almost 20 years after school. I am an EE and work in the construction field. We have a client that we did design build stuff with and the PE stamp was going to be needed for some of our projects. We also had a project with the state and everyone had some sort of initials after their name. Having the PE gave me and my company instant credibility.

    The main thing is take the test as soon as you can. Can you honestly tell me that you still remember valance shells from chemistry? ;>). It is a hell of a lot harder 20 years later. I still couldn’t figure it out.

    Good luck
    Eric

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