Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

As someone with a P.E. license that spent hundreds of hours studying and had to sit for that excruciating 8-hour exam twice, I don't think even 5% of the software developers in the US could pass an equivalent exam. Granted, I think the sector I took it in has a harder test than some, but it is a weed out test for someone that already took 4 years of Engineering school.

Some takeaways from this: 1.) I learned a little bit from studying, but overall even though it was hard, I would've learned a lot more by getting a Master's degree. 2.) The test isn't good at determining if you're good at your job or honestly even minimally competent in your area. For example, even in a specialized field (power systems engineering), there are thousands of diverse jobs (power generation, distribution, electrical contracting, power transmission operations, power transmission planning....etc etc) so the test only had a few questions on my particular area. 3.) There are a lot of amazingly smart people working in software, but the skill range seems to be bigger than in traditional engineering fields where most engineers are fairly similar in skillset (there are some outliers) as they all generally have to pass the same courses if their university is accredited (talking about USA here). In the software world, you have software engineers and computer science doctorates mixed with someone with very little training that is trying to wing it. That means the dataset has a far greater range on skillsets. One employee might have had a class on compilers while another just learned what a for-loop is. In engineering, we generally all show up to the first day of work with the same building blocks (thermo, statics, Dynamics, circuits, differential equations, stats, calculus, basic programming...etc). The only difference between me as a senior engineer and a new hire is 9 years of experience, knowledge of the business and tools and ability to get things done without oversight. It makes a big difference, but I wouldn't expect them to be lacking any of the tools or training that I have picked up (ok...maybe databases).

I'm struggling a bit to convey the overall message that software engineering seems a bit different and licensing would therefore need to be different if done. Perhaps you could have licensing for individual subjects? For example, you could pass a basic test on relational databases where you prove you can do basic operations such as select, where clauses, joins, updates, exports...etc. Then you'd have another to prove you were minimally competent in Java? Would that be of any value to an employer? I don't know. I'm guessing someone already does this for Oracle and Java too.




so I am studying for the FE (I need a lot of math before taking it is realistic) mostly 'cause it gives me this broad feel for things Engineers all know. (I will take the 'other disciplines' - mostly because I want this to be as broad as possible; being broad but shallow makes it a lot easier for me, too, but for me, it being broad is an advantage in other ways, too.)

I personally find tests to be way easier than school, and the schools with reputations that are worth something are... pretty difficult for people like me (who weren't on the college track in high school) to get into. (and there is something of an inverse correlation between the prestige of a school and how flexible they are about scheduling around work; especially for undergrad)

From what I've seen of the test, it does provide some foundational ideas of what engineering is about. Like, it goes a lot into figuring out when things will break - something I haven't really seen a lot of in software engineering.

What I'm saying here is that I dunno that an optimal SWE PE would test you very much on the specifics of Java or SQL or what have you. I mean, from my experience with the FE, at least, they give you a book that has most of the formulae you need... and you are allowed to use a copy of that book during the test, you just need to be able to look it up and apply it. Seems like they would do the same with Java or SQL.

(I mean, to be clear, to apply the formulae, you still need to have more math than I do. I imagine the same would be true of sql or java, only I'm pretty good with SQL, having 20 years of propping up garbage written by engineers who weren't.)

From what I've seen of the software engineers, Most of the time, the software guys throw something together, toss it over the fence and move on. Clearly, they didn't do any analysis to figure out how much load the weak point in the system can handle, or even what the weak-point was. It's incumbent upon me (the SysAdmin; usually the least educated person in the room) to feed load to it at a reasonable speed and to back off and figure out what happened when the thing falls over.

I mean, I think the real question people are bringing up here is "what if we treated software engineering, or at least some subset of software engineering more like real engineering?" - like clearly sometimes you can slap together something over the weekend and it's fine, but... if you are building a car or an airplane or a tall building or something, you probably want to put in the time to make sure it's done right, and for that, you need rules that everyone knows; the PE system, I think, establishes rules everyone knows, while I think software engineering mostly works on the concept of "it worked for me"


Wait...are you studying for the FE without getting an engineering degree? Props to you. One thing to keep in mind though is that there is a morning and afternoon session that are both 4 hours iirc. The first session is always a general session which covers the absolute basics of Engineering math, circuits, thermodynamics, statics, Dynamics, chemistry, and physics. It really is very easy if you remember the classes. Some of the circuits problems can be done in your head and the statics problems might have the resultant force being part of a 3-4-5 right triangle (again, it shouldn't take much thought). The purpose of this is to ensure you learned the absolute bare minimum in these classes. One reason the general questions have to be easy is that depending on your course schedule, it might have been two years since you took a course (Ex: you might have taken only one thermo class as an electrical engineer during your sophomore year). The afternoon test is either also general or specialized to a discipline (Ex: chemical engineer) and are much more difficult in comparison. I barely studied for the FE and felt I knocked it out of the park (especially the morning session). I spent months of all my free time studying for the PE and failed the first time...it is difficult. Keep in mind that both of the tests have a lot of breadth, but little depth. Going into an actual Engineering curriculum will teach you a whole lot more. MIT used to (might still) have a circuits Edx class online for free which covers the first out of 3 circuit classes a EE will take...that should help a little with the scale.

Software is weird as the hardware, languages, and frameworks are always changing and the optimal work done on any project seems to be just enough to keep the customers from going to a new product and not necessarily the best or even a good product in many cases. There are cost constraints in Engineering as well (good, fast, & cheap...pick 2), but it still feels pretty different to me than software engineering where something breaks all the time in any non mainstream software I've ever used.


Yeah, they'll let anyone with a couple hundred bucks sit for the FE. The chances of getting a PE or even an EIT, though, without a degree are... slim to none. But that's not really my goal? (I mean, it would be if it were just tests) Mostly I just want to know those 'absolute basics' of which you speak, and I like to have a test to study towards.

I'll check out that edx class, thanks, that sounds like my thing.




Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: