Software Engineering is a career path that’s been rising in popularity dramatically, especially among the tech-savvy youth. However, with so many similar terms, it can be challenging to get an insight into what software engineering actually is and who can rightfully call themselves a software engineer. Can you call yourself a software engineer without a degree?
You can call yourself a software engineer without a degree if you’re qualified and have the required knowledge and skills. A degree certainly helps but isn’t necessary. In some nations, such as Canada, the term ‘engineer’ is protected, so you need a license to call yourself an engineer.
This article will explore in further depth the qualifications required to be a software engineer, when you can or cannot call yourself a software engineer, and any relevant legal concerns.
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When people talk about software engineering, what they mostly have in their minds is a career that involves coding, programming, software building, and other digital tasks. That isn’t a bad estimation at all.
Software engineers use their mathematical and scientific knowledge to build software that solves real-world problems. In order to call yourself a software engineer, you should be experienced in the field of software engineering.
The term ‘Software Engineer’ is often interchangeably used with ‘Software Developer’ since they pretty much do the same thing. However, it’s important to make the distinction between the two.
Primarily, the title of an engineer is often protected, as there come several responsibilities with being an engineer. Essentially, engineers can be held responsible or liable for their work in ways that a regular category of workers such as software developers can’t be.
This is also one of the major reasons that EITs (engineers in training) practice engineering under licensed engineers. This ensures that there’s someone responsible for the trainees and their work. Engineering graduates cannot practice engineering without being assigned to the supervision of a certified engineer.
You might think that the right to call oneself a software engineer comes along by graduating with a degree in software engineering (or even a similar course, such as computer sciences or computer studies).
However, this is technically incorrect.
When you graduate with a degree in any profession, you aren’t immediately an engineer of that profession. Of course, software engineering is no exception to this.
Graduating with an engineering degree makes you an ‘engineering graduate,’ not a professional engineer. As you’ll read shortly, the engineer title is often regulated and requires much more than a degree in most countries.
It’s important to note here that not having a computer-related degree doesn’t automatically eliminate your chances of being able to call yourself a software engineer. This is especially true if you live somewhere where the engineer title isn’t protected.
I’ll discuss this in further detail down below.
As I mentioned earlier, Software Engineering is often used interchangeably with Software Development when referring to the software career field. While these terms mean almost the same thing to people, in most situations, certain legal concerns arise from the use of the term ‘engineer.’
In many countries across the globe, the term ‘engineer’ is protected by law. Canada, for example, restricts the use of ‘engineer’ in a job title to those who have a P.E (Professional Engineer) license only.
Getting a P.E. license in Canada is time-consuming, requires candidates to have an education in engineering (a bachelor’s degree, at the least), and requires candidates to work under a certified engineer as an ‘engineer-in-training’ for a period of 2-4 (usually 4) years. Only then are they eligible for a P.E. license.
Unfortunately, this means that if you’re in Canada, you most likely will need a degree to eventually call yourself a software engineer. To find out more about engineering and the P.E. license in Canada, refer to this resource by the PEO.
Workers in the software development and software building industry who don’t have a P.E. license (as is mostly the case) technically cannot legally call themselves software engineers. Attempting to pass themselves off as engineers in a professional environment may result in legal action being taken against them.
If you’re in Canada, it’s inadvisable to promote yourself as a software engineer without having a P.E. license.
The U.S. is a bit more relaxed in protecting the ‘engineer’ title. Government bodies regulate the ‘Professional Engineer’ title.
Workers in certain industries are exempt entirely from needing a license to call themselves an engineer in their job title or description. You don’t need to have a certification or a degree to call yourself a ‘Sales Engineer,’ for example.
It isn’t uncommon for people in the U.S. to call themselves and be hired as an engineer without having an engineering license.
The U.S. has a lot of individual states, often with large differences in legislation. The protection of the term ‘engineer’ may be different depending on where you live. It’s best to consult someone with experience in the industry, or even a legal advisor, to determine whether it’d be okay for you to call yourself a software engineer.
To be honest, there’s a lot of gray area in the usage of the term engineer. This is very noticeable when you go on job boards and platforms such as LinkedIn, where almost everyone seems to be calling themselves an engineer in their respective professions without an official engineering certification.
While it’s against the law in most localities to claim that you’re an engineer when you aren’t one, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that legal action is infrequent and seldom seen. This is especially true in the case of software engineering, considering that most software developers describe themselves as engineers.
Surprisingly, the title engineer isn’t protected by law in Australia and the United Kingdom. This means that anyone can get away with misrepresenting themselves as a software engineer (or any engineer, for that matter) without having to face legal repercussions.
In localities where the engineer title is protected, great care has to be taken to define engineering and what it entails, as practicing engineering is restricted to only those who have a license.
Scientists and architects, for example, aren’t engineers and don’t require an engineering license.
In the case of software engineering, it’s hard to describe the exact differences between an engineer and a developer because what they do is so similar in nature.
People, and even organizations, use them interchangeably, and there seem to be little to no differences in their job requirements.
Moreover, it’s indeed true that many of the greatest engineers (including software engineers today) don’t have a degree in engineering. Yet, they or their organizations define them as engineers.
There are a lot of gray areas here, admittedly.
Being able to call yourself a software engineer without a degree is probably unrealistic, especially if you live in an area where the title ‘engineer’ is protected by law. You’ll likely need to have several years of practical experience and pass a licensing exam on top of having a degree to get the right to call yourself an engineer.
However, if ‘engineer’ isn’t protected in your region, nothing legally restricts you from calling yourself one.
In this scenario, it’d be ideal if you were employed with the job title of ‘software engineer’ or one very similar to that. You also need to know what you’re doing and have the right skillset, of course. While not necessary, having a degree in software engineering is likely to help you with both of these points.
Otherwise, you might be misrepresenting yourself, which isn’t against the law if ‘engineer’ isn’t protected but is ethically questionable.
If you want to stay on the safe side, calling yourself a software developer, coder, or programmer, would suffice. These things are the same in most of the general population’s minds.
So can you call yourself a software engineer without a degree? Well, you likely can if:
- You’re in a nation where the term ‘engineer’ isn’t restricted.
- You studied software engineering yourself and through other mediums comprehensively, to the point where you feel qualified and competent.
- You find yourself employed with a job title of ‘software engineer’ or something similar.
Understanding whether you can call yourself a software engineer without a degree (or even with one!) can be tricky. This is made especially complicated by the legal restrictions often placed around the usage of the term ‘engineer.’
Using the title of engineer requires a license in certain nations, such as Canada and the United States. Obtaining this license requires a related degree, so, unfortunately, you cannot legally be a software engineer in these places without acquiring a degree. However, you’re free to call yourself a software engineer without a degree in the U.K. and Australia.
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