Alliance Builds Support for Software Engineering PE Exam


Jan/Feb 2009

Alliance Builds Support for Software Engineering PE Exam

During the past year, the Software Engineering Licensure Consortium has been spreading the word about the importance of software engineering licensure for work that affects the public health, safety, and welfare. The effort is gaining a growing level of support for creating a PE exam in software engineering.

The IEEE Computer Society, with assistance from the consortium, recently conducted a survey and found a high interest in licensure and a software engineering-specific PE exam. The survey was sent to 3,500 IEEE Computer Society members, and 781 of those members participated in the survey. Three in five survey respondents said that software engineers practicing in areas that affect public health, safety, and welfare should be licensed and a path to licensure that follows the NCEES Model Law should be developed for software engineers. The survey also found that

  • 16% of the 781 survey responders are PEs.
  • 75% of the participants had degrees in computer science, electrical engineering, computer engineering, or software engineering.
  • 83% of the participants said they were practicing software engineering.

NSPE member Dan Wittliff, P.E., who serves as a facilitator on the Software Engineering Licensure Consortium, says that the growing support for development of a software engineering PE exam is a promising sign. "There is an understanding that we need to have some way to verify that engineers that are performing work that has a critical impact on the public are qualified to do so," he says.

The consortium was established in 2007 and includes representatives from NSPE's Professional Engineers in Industry, NSPE's Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee, the Licensing and Registration Committee of IEEE-USA, the IEEE Communications Society, the IEEE Computer Society, the Texas Board of Professional Engineers, and several NSPE members who serve on state licensing boards. Staff from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying are also participating.

Texas became the first state to award software engineering licensure in 1998 and remains the only state in the U.S. to do so, although some Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, and Australia license software engineers. The Texas Board of Professional Engineers ended the experience-only path to software licensure in 2006. Licensure candidates currently have to take an exam in another discipline.

The consortium's main goal is to convince at least 10 licensing boards that an exam is necessary—a requirement before NCEES can start developing a PE exam in software engineering. The consortium has gathered letters of support from professional engineering licensure boards in eight states: Delaware, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Many of these states are home to high-tech centers and ABET-accredited software engineering programs.

Andrew Ritter, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, says he promotes licensure to engineering students and believes that a PE exam will improve his ability to convince them to give licensure a shot. "We are in the backyard of North Carolina State University, which has a huge software engineering component," he says. "The biggest complaint from faculty and students has been there is not a test for them. It's hard for me to promote licensure when there isn't a good test for them."

The next steps in the process for the consortium to get approval for an exam include recruiting a sponsoring technical society and recruiting volunteers to participate in the NCEES Professional Activities and Knowledge Study process to develop the body of knowledge for the exam. The consortium will also provide members for the core committee for exam development.