Multiyear Effort Leads to New Professional Engineering Exam for Software Engineers

Release Status: 
Contact Name: 
Stacey A. Ober
Contact Number: 
Sunday, October 11, 2009

In a nearly 27-month effort, members of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) serving on the Software Engineering Licensure Consortium worked to promote establishing a licensure path for software engineers who are engaged in work that affects the public health, safety, and welfare. Their efforts paid off when the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) approved the development of a new professional engineering exam for software engineers during their Board of Directors meeting in August.

This new exam validates the SELC's position that software engineers—who have a significant role in designing, developing, and maintaining critical software systems, such as those for emergency dispatching services, information security, and electrical power grids—should be regulated by state licensing boards similar to other engineering professions.

"This accomplishment marks the first time that any new PE exam has met the rigorous standards enacted by NCEES in 2002, including garnering letters from 10 state licensing boards who support developing an exam," said Dan Wittliff, P.E., F.NSPE, facilitator of the SELC. "The leadership of NSPE, and of all the partnering organizations, provided the continuous support of this multiyear effort that made it a success."

The SELC also got a boost from practicing software engineers in the effort. Despite some expected resistance, an IEEE Computer Society survey showed nearly 63 percent of software engineers agreed they should be licensed if their work affects the public's health, safety, or welfare. And almost 62 percent supported the development of software engineering licensure through NCEES.

"In my business, we consistently see that licensed professional engineers have a better grasp than programmers on the engineering principles necessary to design the software projects and applications we provide," said Kathryn Gray, P.E., F.NSPE, president of GrayTech Software Inc. in Wheaton, Ill. "We rely on the PEs to ensure security, safety, and quality control of our systems that protect the public and are excited that software engineering graduates will soon have a dedicated path to licensure."

According to NCEES, the software licensing exam could be offered in as little as two to three years, after undergoing a professional activities and knowledge study. This study involves a survey of a diverse sample of practicing software engineers to gather information about the importance of various knowledge components within the discipline. Information from the survey will help determine topics in the exam, and items will be written for initial exam administration. IEEE-USA will serve as the lead technical society, with NSPE, the IEEE Computer Society, and the Texas Board of Professional Engineers sharing the financial cost and providing subject matter experts.

Additional Notes: 

The National Society of Professional Engineers is the national society of licensed professional engineers from all disciplines that promotes the ethical and competent practice of engineering, advocates licensure, and enhances the image and well-being of its members. Founded in 1934, NSPE serves more than 45,000 members and the public through 53 state and territorial societies and more than 500 chapters. For more information, please visit