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A Long Road to a Professional Engineering License

Written By: John Poole on July 24, 2016 One Comment
My boss at my first engineering job told me that a PE license and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee.  stock-vector-vector-blueprint-cup-for-tea-or-coffee-icon-on-engineer-or-architect-background-316343297
Now that’s one heck of a saying, and at 22 years old, I didn’t really get it. I eventually put two and two together and realized that since a cup of coffee costs about a dollar, the PE license may not be worth too much. For this and other reasons, I was always on the fence about getting it. On one hand it could bring some credibility and security to your career, but it could also put you on a very technical path that may be tough to get out of if you’re looking to get into management or running your own business.
**Another popular saying is, “A blog and handful of quarters will get you a cup of coffee.”  
I’m really knockin’ ’em dead I guess. ** 
However, about 15 years into my career, I decided to pursue the license through the Pennsylvania State Registration Board. I did this because I wanted to increase my credibility as a consultant and not have to rely on high risk, hard bid, construction contracts.
This is all great, but I had been doing project management for most of my career and the technicalities and theory of engineering had sunk deep to the bottom of my mind. Like trying to bring the Titanic back to the surface, I would have to refresh and possibly re-learn much of this material. I started the process of collecting data, references, and a year by year synopsis of my career for deliberation by the Board.
There is no doubt that the PA Board was a little reluctant to throw down the stamp of approval for someone who had been working on construction sites their whole career.  They asked more than once for more detailed information about how my career has applied the principles of math and science.
Long story short, I eventually got approved to take the test after several requests for detailed information about my work experience.  The whole process took about 12 months and several iterations.  
I ended up taking an online course to go over all the engineering principles that had been stagnant for years. I feel like online courses are the equivalent of exercise classes on video. I don’t know how anybody can do either – you’re just one push of a button away from doing something much more enjoyable. I struggled through it nonetheless and tried to pick up as much as I could. The best part about the course was the two hundred or so practice problems that come with it. I spent several weekends working through these problems and they really helped.
I also had the Civil Engineering Reference Manual (CERM) which is pretty much a staple for the PE exam. However, I found that I didn’t use it that much during the open book exam. The test was much more conceptual than I was expecting and I found myself referencing some other manuals, but mostly just grinding through the problems on my own.  The folks at NCEES know that the CERM is used by almost everyone and I got the feeling that they wanted go beyond this reference.  
The morning wasn’t that bad – I finished about an hour early. It was very conceptual and hit all phases of civil engineering: civil, structural, environmental, surveying, construction management, and geotechnical.
The afternoon, however, was brutal.  I took the construction engineering specific test and it basically tested everything but at a much more complex level.  I remember doing a crane analysis problem that gave the loading on a crane and asked for a thickness of the concrete pad necessary to withstand overturning.  You’re only supposed to spend six minutes per problem but I remember spending well over ten minutes on this with my pencil burning through calculations.  After this exercise, my answer was not nearly any of the multiple choice options.  I made a guess and moved on.  
There were actually several questions in the afternoon on which I had to make a guess.  This is why I thought I failed the test.  However, I did not.  They don’t tell you your score, but I imagine that I passed it by a slim margin.  
Now it’s time to see how it helps, redirects, or otherwise alters my career.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, here’s a buck, grab a cup of coffee.                    
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