Not long after I chose electrical engineering as a major in college, someone asked me if I was planning to take the EIT exam. What was that? It stands for “engineer in training” and it is the customary first step in obtaining a Professional Engineer (PE) license. To the best of my recollection, it didn’t cost that much and I went ahead and took it, not so much because I wanted a license but because I was the kind of nerd who couldn’t turn down a chance to see how well he did on standardized tests. By the time I graduated, I had learned that you had to “practice” for a specified number of years to take the next exam to become a full-blown PE, and in the meantime I had not been able to find anyone who could tell me what good it would do to have a PE license. So I dropped the whole thing.

Doctors and lawyers in Texas, just to choose a state I’m familiar with, must have licenses issued respectively by the Texas Medical Board (a government agency) or the State Bar of Texas (a private organization authorized to grant licenses to practice law). You can go to jail for practicing medicine without a license, and the penalties for violating legal codes of ethics include “disbarment,” which effectively ends your career as a lawyer.  But the codes of ethics of most engineering organizations do not have the force of law, and the great majority of practicing engineers are not licensed, at least not in the U. S. (The laws of many other countries for licensing engineers more closely resemble those of the medical and legal professions here in the U. S.).