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I am from a country in which the use of the word "Engineer" or "Engineering" is strictly regulated by legislation. This means that you must hold a degree in Engineering AND passed an exam to join the Engineers' professional association to use the title. I am a bit confused about the term "Software Engineer" as used in the industry, globally.

I read the wikipedia page on Software Engineer and the linked section of the page about the term usage, which offer an in-depth discussion. However my question is somehow more concrete.

Knowing that I don't hold a degree in engineering (yet, I like to think I produce funcional, well designed software!), when I see an opening for a software engineer from an international company, would it be appropriate for me to apply? Should I somehow emphasise that I don't hold a degree in engineering?

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One good trick would be to learn how to spell "engineer". This might be a knee jerk comment, but I'm only writing it because it was the only spelling mistake in your question, everything else was perfect, and "engeneer" kinda stood out. –  Yannis Rizos Dec 19 '11 at 8:41
    
an opening for a software engineer from an international company That highly depends on where the company or the branch of the company you are applying to is located. Different countries have quite different laws and regulations, there isn't a global answer. You'll have to approach this on a per case basis, for instance I'm considered a Software Engineer in the UK (where I studied) but not in Greece (where I live and work). –  Yannis Rizos Dec 19 '11 at 8:45
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It should be ok to apply - as long as you know the secret handshake, of course. –  SK-logic Dec 19 '11 at 9:04
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We once interviewed an "engeneer" who claimed he had worked for boing... thats boing as in boeing. He didn't get a second interview. –  Dal Dec 19 '11 at 17:23
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Many people said "just try it", which is a sound career advice. However, OP's question seems slightly different. He (or she) grew up (and I assume got his education) in country A, where the term "engineer" is regulated. He now lives in country B, and is interested in a job in country C or with a company whose culture is country-C-like. Country C does not regulate the term "engineer", hence the job offer probably means "software engineer" in a much broader sense as it would be understood in country A. OP is qualified for the job, but it's not clear whether he should use the word "engineer". –  Jan Dec 19 '11 at 17:53

7 Answers 7

up vote 22 down vote accepted

You are not going to waste anyone's time. Go for it. And you don't even need to emphasize that you don't hold a degree in engineering. Your CV (Resume) will obviously state what degrees you hold, and by inference what you do not hold. Only avoid companies that specifically state that they are only looking for accredited etc etc.

EDIT: The reason for this is that computer software development has been, still is, and will continue for a while to be an explosively growing, industry-led field, where 99% of "what the job is all about" is learned at the workplace, not at the University. The University is good for learning to specialize on a specific subject by means of a Master's or higher degree, and when a company is looking for a specialist they usually state this requirement. This comes from someone who holds a "Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science" and who nevertheless learned that what he is doing is in fact a science outside of the University. (Initially in highschool, when I learned what binary search is, and later at work, when I learned what OOP was. At the University they had not heard of OOP yet.)

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You know, the downvote without an explanation does not help me become a better person. But I love you too. –  Mike Nakis Dec 19 '11 at 14:52
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Recruiters will filter you if they see you don't have a degree and they require one. –  Kevin Dec 19 '11 at 15:22
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@Kevin sure they will, but advertising a position for a "Software Engineer" does not necessarily imply a requirement for a Software Engineering (or whatever it's called) degree. –  Mike Nakis Dec 19 '11 at 15:40
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If youre filtered, nobodys time are wasted.. At whole. –  Independent Dec 19 '11 at 17:43
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Even if the job post asks for a degree you never know how/why/when they might get desperate and lower the bar. So just apply. Hafta play ta win. –  Kevin Dec 21 '11 at 5:40

Software engineer isn't a real engineer. There has been a movement to formalize software development into an engineering position, however it has hit a lot of bumps. Software development is still too new and developing too rapidly to be properly defined into an engineering profession, like a mechanical or electrical engineer. There is also some debate as to whether software development actually fits in the same definition of engineer or if it would even be beneficial to make software development an engineering process.

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"Software engineer isn't a real engineer." Tell that to the IEEE. Or to ABET, where the Engineering Accreditation Commission assesses Software Engineering programs as opposed to the Computing Accreditation Commission which assesses computer science and information technology programs. "There is also some debate as to whether software development actually fits in the same definition of engineer or if it would even be beneficial to make software development an engineering process." As defined by the IEEE and advocated for by the likes of Steve McConnell and David Parnas, it is engineering. –  Thomas Owens Dec 19 '11 at 18:52
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@Ryathal - In my country of origin - I can assure you - software engineering IS a formal qualification requiring 5 years of study [of which the first three in common with electronic engineers I believe]. –  mac Dec 19 '11 at 22:10

At least in the US, the key is that you need to be able to do what's described in the description. The way you got those skills less important.

HOWEVER- there are companies that do screening where it helps tremendously for an entry level position if you have:

  • B.S. or B.A. Degree in something
  • Preferably a B.S. in something vaguely related to computers - like Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, Computer Science, IT, Math, or something similar. Even EEs, Physics, or any other science is likely to get you more opportunities than, say, Linguistics or Fine Arts.
  • A good GPA

This largely has to do with the company's screening process and the number of applicants they have. The less formal the company, by and large, the less restrictive the screening.

In the end, I have little doubt that you can get a job doing "software engineering" provided you can do what they say in the description and you can make that case through your resume and the interview. The definition of "engineering" as something highly legislated and baselined is unique enough to the given country that it won't particularly translate internationally. Some professional certifications might - it all depends on the certification and the specialty it demonstrates.

Resumes

As far as a resume goes, I'd recommend highlighting what you CAN do. Not what you haven't done. A classic resume format will include: - your goals - your education - your technical skills - your previous work experience

Leaving off a critical element is a fine way of demonstrating you don't have that element, you don't have to go above and beyond to say what you don't do. For example, if you have some number of years of college completed, but have not matriculated, mention where you went to school and how many years, and some key coursework. The lack of graduation date (or expected graduation date) is a direct tip off that you have not yet finished school.

When speaking to skills you gained through independent personal projects, you have two options, IMO, depending on how much space you have available.

  • for a younger candidate, I'd list the skills acquirer in a skills section - for example programming languages, methodologies, development tools, etc. And then list the personal project under "experience" with an annotation that this was a personal project. I met a candidate that had implemented dynamic web server code this way, on a game site, and when he provided the link, I went above and beyond to play with his site and get a sense of what he'd done - it was a real win for our discussion.

  • for a more experienced candidate with an experience list a mile long - just stick the new skills in the "skills/knowledge section" unless the project is unbelievable and available for review. For example, if you coded a big part of Hibernate - put that on there!!! but if you made a web server for your bingo group... I'm probably more interested in the big company that employed you for the last 3 years...

My general philosophy is - it's your job to show the company why they SHOULD hire you. It's their job to vet whether or not you are the best fit for the position and they will do that by taking you into account in comparison to their larger pool of candidates. If every other applicant has a formal degree and professional certification, then you may be out of luck... but if not, you may have the perfect skill set.

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Do not get caught up in titles. If they did mean something to that company, they just will ignore your CV/Resume. You should apply to every single job that you feel you will enjoy. Do not limit yourself at the starting gate. At the worst case it wastes thirty minutes of your time.

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In the US, it's "software engineer" is a common job title that doesn't really mean anything different from "programmer/analyst" or "software developer". It depends what the company in question wants to give out as a title.

For example, at one place I was employed, almost everyone had a job title that ended either with "engineer" or "technician". The HR manager in my location was called a "Lead Human Resources Engineer".

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@ThomasOwens - I didn't know that. You have to love it when a state that has leaders that pride themselves on "small government" has regulations like this in place. –  jfrankcarr Dec 19 '11 at 15:18
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@Thomas Owens - I live in Tx, went to an ABET accredited university in Tx for C.S., and I've never heard that Software Engineer is a regulated title. Wiki says only 44 people actually have an official Tx certification. Companies in the area tend to throw the title around just like any other. So, FWIW in my experience the regulation may exist, but it's not being enforced. Also according to wiki it is not being well accepted. –  P.Brian.Mackey Dec 19 '11 at 15:22
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This article, written by a PE from the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and published in IEEE Software, discusses it in more depth. You can use the title for your full-time employer, using only their facilities to product their products. However, you can't use the title outside the company. It all comes back to the legal responsibilities of someone calling themselves an engineer, which are also discussed in the article. –  Thomas Owens Dec 19 '11 at 15:28
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@P.Brian.Mackey You can use the title at work only, assuming you are either a PE or meet the exemptions. However, I have personal business cards that identify myself as a "software engineer" - it's against Texas law for me to use these in Texas to advertise myself, even though I graduated from an ABET accredited engineering program. I'm not sure if your CS program was accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission or the Engineering Accreditation Commission, but mine was accredited by the EAC. I'm also not sure of the enforcement of such a law, but the fact is the law is on the books. –  Thomas Owens Dec 19 '11 at 15:32
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Thomas Owens is correct about Texas. While its not strictly enforced, Texas does license engineers and their trade group does get cranky about calling anyone who has not passed the 'Professional Engineer' (PE) examination an 'engineer'. Many companies use the title 'software developer' to avoid this hassle. Even though I have an engineering degree, I never took the PE test. I would still apply for a 'software engineer' job opening without a moment's hesitation if I thought I could do the job. –  Jim In Texas Dec 19 '11 at 16:27

Some of the best software developers I have worked with didn't have a degree related to software development. Myself, I have a degree in IT but still pursued a career in software development.

Professional engineering associations tend to form when a particular technical field has near universal and unchallenged standards and accepted practices AND when their is a relatively large amount of qualified labor as compared to demand for such professionals. This happens in relatively mature engineering fields.

Software engineering isn't quite there (yet) but slowly getting closer. The problem is that if you take a random sampling of software engineers today and ask them a simple question, like "Design a CRUD web based application for tracking __" and you will get wildly different designs. Some will be good designs, some will be poor, some will unique, some will be boilerplate. Hell if you get James Gosling, Martin Fowler and several other great minds into a room they would probably have more arguments and differences than what they agree on.

Further consider that from a business and societal perspective we tend to be okay with poor quality software sometimes (depending on availability of alternatives and price). Compare that to business and societal perspective on the quality we expect from a bridge. Nobody accepts a poor quality bridge, and engineers designing that bridge do so under strict guidelines and accepted standards.

In my opinion it will get to the point someday where the cost and value of 90% of software available today will align more properly, and what will remain will be large, expensive and highly standards driven projects with highly accepted and formalized methods to approach design problems. Only at this point will the need for qualified engineers in a professional association be greater than the need for a bright wiz kid who can do the job as well with less formality. I don't see this happening for at least another 15-20 years however.

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Very insightful [at least for me, anyhow], thanks! :) –  mac Dec 19 '11 at 12:51
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I'm not too sure about the second paragraph. There are a number of professional associations designed around engineers in computing (computer and software engineers) as well as computing professionals - the IEEE Computer Society, the ACM, and the British Computer Society are rather large. The IEEE Communication Society has begun to reach out to software professionals in other IEEE societies, and searches turn up other local societies in different countries. SE is still less mature than other engineering disciplines, but there are associations formed for software engineers and professionals. –  Thomas Owens Dec 19 '11 at 13:11
    
Agreed and the standards that some of these bodies set forth are critically important. However at least in the US, being a member of a professional engineers association is little more than a fancy badge on the lapel that is your resume, sometimes holding about as much weight with an employer as being a member of an academic fraternity. It certainly looks good but in the end I have seen a lot of candidates be turned down by my managers for being OVER-qualified. cont... –  maple_shaft Dec 19 '11 at 13:24
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@ThomasOwens - I wouldn't pit defense contractors against the employees of selective commercial firms in a test of skill. I've done both, and defense contractors are a lot less selective. The skills needed to advance the defense business are a lot more political than technical. –  kevin cline Dec 19 '11 at 15:43
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About your opinion in the last paragraph: One difference between computer engineering and more formal engineering trades (such as civil engineering), is a hacker cannot build a bridge, he doesn't have the tools or materials. But there will always be the possibility for a hacker in his moms basements to produce better software than even the biggest software companies. It may become more difficult, but the possibility will always exist - unlike with bridges. Just my counter opinion; cheers. –  Buttons840 Dec 19 '11 at 18:14

Normally in the job advertisements it is mentioned whether a degree is required or not. Decide whether to apply or not, depending on this. If it is not mentioned, then there are chances that the job requires more of an experience or attitude than degree. In that case, in my opinion you can apply and take your chances. Anyways when the recruiters see that you do not have any degree in your resume, they will decide whether to select you.

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I've never seen a job posting that didn't clearly specify the minimum requirements in terms of the type of degree, field of study, experience, and certification, along with any desired degrees, certifications, or skills. I'm not sure what the practices outside the US are, but I would suspect that most job postings would make the minimum and desired qualifications very explicit. –  Thomas Owens Dec 19 '11 at 13:04
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@Thomas Owens For example in Russia (and this is not "In Soviet Russia ..." joke) it is not true, most IT-related job offers don't have any strict requirements in terms of education. When I browsed careers.SO I saw less, but still quite a few offers that didn't specify it (or didn't make it a requirement). I think in countries where money helps you get a degree much easier(bribes, etc.) or education is not very modern it is valued much less. –  XzKto Dec 19 '11 at 15:27

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