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RE: SE Tests

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You’ve either misunderstood me or we seriously disagree.


Yes, I’m aware that once one passes a civil exam, s/he is legally allowed to design anything within the realm of civil engineering.


I totally disagree that, just because one passes an exam, one is deemed competent. There’s evidence of that all over the place. I’m a good example. In my civil exam, I solved the surveying question using math, not surveying principles. I have NO CLUE of which end of a transit to look into. Yet, I’m legally allowed to sign grading and drainage plans. So, if I take on a project, is it legal? Yes. Is it ethical? In my opinion, no.


You’re wrong about someone who spends their apprenticeship in hydrology practicing structural engineering. They CAN here in CA. THAT’S the scary part.


I have no problem with someone acquiring the necessary competency to engage in a particular field of practice. I support that approach totally. Using the example above, suppose I decided that (gasp) I wanted to do grading and drainage plans or just plain old surveying. So I decide to take a refresher course in surveying principles, agree to take on a position as an apprentice for a surveying firm, etc. until I (as well as others( think that I have the necessary background to do it on my own, then I think it would be not only legal but ethical to take on such projects.


With regards to legislating competency, I agree that’s similar to legislating morality. Can’t be done. But that doesn’t mean negligence can’t be prosecuted after the fact. Consider this example. Suppose I went to a fine university, got good grades, then went immediately to work for a large firm designing steel structures. I pass the P.E. exam the first time, and the S.E. exam the first time. Suppose I’m approached by an architect who needs some plans of a residence stamped and signed. The architect says he is going to do the structural drafting, but he needs beam sizes, foundation sizes, shear walls and hold downs. Timber seems simple enough to me. After all, I’ve read Breyer’s book. Pretty straight forward. Much simpler than the complicated projects I do during the day. No problem. Fifteen hundred bucks for some simple wood design? You’ve got to be kidding. Cha-Ching! I’ll do that on my kitchen table. Of course, I don’t realize the most important part of wood design is the connections and I fail to provide a load path from roof to foundation (straps, etc.). If something goes wrong with this structure and I end up in court, you probably don’t think I’m negligent but I do!


So we agree or disagree, I don’t really care at this point.




T. William (Bill) Allen, S.E. (CA #2607)

V/F (949) 248-8588

San Juan Capistrano, CA


-----Original Message-----
From: Keith De Lapp [mailto:keith(--nospam--at)]
Friday, November 07, 2003 12:58 AM
Subject: SE Tests


Bill, you're really scaring me here!  Engineering is a marketplace.  The client is not a guinea pig.  Haven't you ever had a client who didn't fully appreciate the value of the service you provide and decided to hire another professional for less money.  Hell yes you have!  For the purposes of keeping your fees up, you can't limit competition by claiming an ipso facto threshold for competence.


You're wrong about competence and licensing.  When you pass the test and the state issues you a license, you are deemed competent at least to the extent demonstrated by having successfully solved the test questions you responded to.  This doesn't mean of course the engineer who spent their apprenticeship in hydrology can practice in the structural discipline or vice versa.  But it also doesn't preclude an engineer from acquiring the necessary competency to protect life and safety when left to their own devices.


As for civil engineering being to broad.  I believe that civil is no different from mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical, nuclear, petroleum, and yes structural engineering.  I'll bet you lunch at your favorite restaurant that there are as many subsets of expertise in structural as there are in civil.  When we take into consideration the many material factors that influence even the simplest design, it can very quickly extend us beyond our base of practical experience and competence.  Our ability to adapt and respond to these competency situations varies from engineer to engineer.


I know licensed engineers who have never done a rigid diaphragm analysis, a grade beam on an elastic foundation analysis, a perforated shear wall design or even know what a masonry boundary member is.  I recognize the competition for what it is, and explain to the client that engineering is a market place just like buying tires for your vehicle.  I ask the client "when shopping for tires, do you buy the tires that cost the least amount of money?"  And then begin to explain the value of our services in terms I hope they understand.  I believe our marketplace is shaped by the buyers as much as it is shaped by the sellers.


In my not so humble opinion, you can't legislate prescriptive competency.  Any attempt to do so will result in more harm to the profession than one could possibly hope to solve.



Keith De Lapp, P.E.