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I am a working software engineer in the state of Pennsylvania with ~5 years experience. I have a BS in Computer Engineering, however I feel that I need to obtain either a PE License or IEEE CSDP Certification to solidify my status as a professional.

Does anyone have an opinion on this matter?

PE License (Computer Engineering)

IEEE CSDP Certification

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Why would either of these "solidify" your status as a professional? A very small minority of companies would have even heard of them, let alone require. What are you lacking that these things would give you? Edit: Sorry, I'm sure several would have heard of the PE. –  msvb60 May 18 '11 at 0:48
    
How programming-specific is this? With very few wording changes, this could apply to any engineering field. (I could also argue "too localized".) –  David Thornley May 18 '11 at 15:20
    
@David Thornley - Our field is a bit unique in that we don't have any official regulation (yet) and that's what makes the question programming specific. Ask most other engineering fields if getting there PE is a good thing and most of them will tell you that it is mandatory where as most programmers will tell you that certifications are mostly useless. –  rjzii May 18 '11 at 15:27
    
I didn't realize there was a PE exam for computer engineering now. I have a BSEE (and MSCS), and years ago when I considered getting a PE there was only the electrical/electronics exam and since I do mostly digital design it wasn't as relevant to me. –  tcrosley May 18 '11 at 17:59
    
For anyone finding this question, I would like to say that effective April 2013, there will be a PE exam for Software Engineering. –  Thomas Owens May 15 '12 at 22:29
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5 Answers

Looking back on my career, I regret not getting my PE. I was vigorously opposed to all forms of certification and licensing before my 30s. If you ever want to get your PE, you need to strongly consider getting yours before 2015 - to get a PE after that date you will need to have a masters degree in engineering. If you get your PE before that date, and let it lapse, then you can always get it reinstated.

As you have noticed, the computer engineering exam is more about designing computers than about programming them. NCEES is developing a software engineering PE exam, but that has not been released yet. Not all states allow for all exams (such as nuclear or petroleum), while some states just want any PE exam to be passed in order to call yourself a PE.

Currently in the US, only Texas has a software engineering PE, however they changed their requirements back in 2006 to make it effectively impossible to get. Prior, you needed a PE (any PE) and then petitioned TSBE for a software PE (you had to show you knew your stuff anyway). After the change, you needed a PE (any PE), a PhD, and the only new software engineering PEs were issued to professors teaching university level software engineering.

My suspicion is that if you survey attitudes towards certifications and licensure, you will find folks strongly opposed in their 20s and early 30s, but by their late 30s and mid 40s, they are in favor of such things. Thus, I think that all such questions of "should I get X cert" or "should I get Y license" are litmus tests for age.

My recommendation: get your PE. You can always let it lapse if you regret getting it. If you don't get it, and regret not getting it, you will find it much harder to do anything about it. Especially when you find past employers who will use "company policy" as the excuse to refuse to fill in experience forms in order to sit for the PE exam.

I'll leave you with this blog post.

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I don't think either one will make much difference to your status as a professional.

A PE license wasn't a requirement in my past career as a mechanical engineer. People who had to sign off and stamp drawings might be required to have a PE, but it's not that common. Civil engineers were more likely to have a PE.

As for the other certifications, I've never met anyone during my software career that had either one.

I don't believe either one will hurt you, but I don't see the benefit beyond learning the material. I've never had an employer ask about either one.

Certifications from Cisco, Microsoft, or Oracle aren't even that big a deal, but those are more common.

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Thank you for your feedback duffymo, I don't care much for technology specific certs myself: Oracle, Cisco, etc. –  Derek May 17 '11 at 20:44
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You don't mention which industry you are working in. Historically "controls" engineers have not been required to have a PE to practice. Most states required a PE to practice mechanical, civil or electrical engineering. Not everyone had to have a PE, but there had to be at least one licenses PE at the company whose approval was required for all products / projects. At least some states have indicated that they will require a PE for companies designing, building and selling electronic and computer controlled equipment.

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The answer will likely depend upon where you want to go career-wise, as others have pointed out, very few mainstream software companies are going to be looking at what certifications you have and at most they will just help you get an interview in some limited cases.

That said, companies that are have an advanced CMM level (i.e. four or five) are likely going to view the CSPD as a good thing and I have heard that in some cases the credentials are required of employees although not required in order to be interviewed. However, there are not that many companies out there like this (mostly defense and aerospace if my memory serves me) so unless you looking to get into that realm, the credential is unlikely to be of much use. Sitting down an reading the SWEBOK that the test is based upon might be a very good thing to do, but you don't need to take the test in order to get access to the manual.

In terms of the PE credential, personally, if I were in a position to get it I would go for it as I could see this becoming more important as the field matures in the future and there are going class to have a PE on staff for software projects with a significant impact on life or property if they fail (i.e. power plant control software). So I could see this being more in demand in the future in those realms, but again most companies are not going to care about.

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In Summary

Neither CSDP nor PE seems suitable to give you the career advance. However, there is a great option to pursue an advanced degree, gain more experience in bigger companies, study from up-to-date books relevant to your profession, join professional groups, and distinguish yourself through all these achievements combined.

CSDP

The CSDP certification is intended for mid-career Software Engineers; however, you are a Computer Engineer which is a different discipline.

PE License for Computer Engineers

The PE License is available for Computer Engineers, but whether it applies to you depends on your state. Does the state regulate the use of the term "engineer" only to those who are licensed? If not, it won't distinguish you very well. Further, to explain licensing, it is only required on positions where public safety might be at risk, or health, environment, and similar. Such positions typically require employees and contractors to pass the PE exam prior to signing the contract.

If you are unaware of a particular company which pays you more and treats you better for passing the PE exam, I would say don't do it. Similarly, consider whether your state regulates the use of the term "engineer" only to licensed professionals. [If not, the PE exam may not be available in your state at all]. It is also important to bear in mind the PE Exam in Computer Engineering will require first passing the engineering fundamentals exam (FE) and your degree has to be ABET accredited, or it has to go through credentials evaluation.

Other Considerations

A good starting point is to state clear goals, i.e. where you want to get. Then consider where you are now. Finally, think of different options how to get there.

One of the greatest opportunities is to pursue a relevant Master's Degree. It takes only one year (full-time) or 2 years while on job (part-time study). This typically accelerates your career and depending on how hard you work, you will grow that much.

One related option is to become an IEEE member and study materials relevant to your chosen career path.

This will only give you access to more resources. The studying is still up to you and hence a degree would be the most efficient solution, unless you are extremely efficient at self-study without any guidance and help, and see no problem subsequently proving and justifying your value to potential employers.

Conclusion

There is a rule of the thumb, i.e. research available careers, see the real demands of your desired position, compare with what you can offer now, and write down what you need to learn. Then see about where to learn it.

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