This is a guest post by my good friend Skye Coleman. We’ve known each other for sometime now and he is my go-to person for any PE exam related questions.
Over to you Skye –
It was around Thanksgiving of 2012, I had just gotten back from a 4 month stint on a jobsite in West Texas, a town aptly called No Trees. My boss and I had just sat down and discussed my “future” at the company.
Working for a small firm I had gotten every opportunity I asked for and wanted, but I wanted to know what was next.
I’d been working for this company off and on since I’d graduated high school. It became apparent during that short discussion that if I wanted to continue growing, it wouldn’t be while working there. I was listless, bored, and not-happy with my current level of compensation.
Most of those things would only change with a new job.
A few months later, I got calls back from the only two companies that I’d sent my resume out to. It was time for my interviews.
Sitting across the table from them, looking at the offers I was receiving… I was again undervalued.
I’d been working in the engineering world for almost 14 years, but I was getting salary offers which barely surpassed my starting salary leaving school. There was something wrong.
So I asked them.
“I’ve got over a decade of work history, why is it that you’re offering me an almost entry level position?”
“Well,” one of them said “if someone has over a decade of experience, they’d already have their PE license. Why is it you don’t have yours?”
It was the industry, and my lack of industry credentials that was causing my problem.
Is a Professional Engineering license really needed?
The vast majority of engineers will never get their license. For what they do, it’s not needed and won’t be seen as a benefit.
But then there’s consulting engineering.
If you work for a company that designs buildings, roads, power plants, or anything of substantial size and use by the public or businesses… chances are someone needs to seal the plans.
I chose to work in an industry that designs and builds airport fueling systems, and you just can’t get ahead without your seal.
Now, there are some pussies who were worried about the liability of sealing something who never got their PE. But they’re few and far between, and almost always passed over for any promotion or job growth within the firm.
If you get scared off by taking ownership for your design, then you shouldn’t be an engineer.
Try teaching, it’s a “safe” profession.
About six months later
Once I knew why I was undervalued, it was easy to fix it. I sat for the next exam available, the test went pretty smooth… but then came the wait.
Despite the fact the test is designed by engineers for engineers, it’s pretty archaic.
The (majority) of the test versions are a combination of 40 morning and 40 afternoon multiple-choice test questions with an 8 hour time limit. You fill in your answers on a scantron just like high school, hand it back to the proctor, then wait.
Not like a 5 min wait you’d expect to get something graded, no, you wait months.
It takes so long because of the way they grade the test. They have a bunch of industry professionals take the exam too, then they look at their results. If any of them struggle or disagree with the answers for the questions, there’s a chance that question will be thrown out.
This leads to a lot of confusion on required scores to pass, but everyone I know agrees that you need roughly 75% to get your licensure.
So roughly 6 weeks after my test, I got an email.
Now, you’re a professional engineer
Despite all the time you put in, studying, and what your college degree says… you’re actually not an engineer until you’re licensed in many states.
There’s a reason many firms won’t allow you to put engineer on your business card, despite your title inside the company, and it has to do with legality. Certain states, like California and Illinois require you to be licensed to call yourself an engineer.
It’s amazing the doors that get opened to you after you have your license.
In my case, I was treated differently at the company. Being able to seal your own drawings was a huge barrier that held many people back and you weren’t taken seriously until you got your degree.
When I applied for and took my last job back in 2013, I did so at a salary barely more than I accepted coming right out of school over 5 years prior.
I took a leap of faith knowing that my previous company wasn’t going to give me the opportunity that I wanted.
But I made a mistake.
When should you take the PE exam?
I was anxious to leave my job and I didn’t care as much what the salary was.
If I was smart, a six month hiatus to pass the PE could have garnered me probably an additional $10,000 in salary when starting out. Multiple that over the last several years, and I’ve probably lost out on close to $50,000 because of the growth I could have seen in my career.
But, it was all worth it in the end.
A new path opened up to me, and I took it. Throughout the last few years I started taking on more responsibilities and move where I really wanted when I started this journey nearly 4 years back. Then this last December, everything changed.
I’m now a project manager. I have sold almost $1 million worth of design work, and nearly $6 million worth of construction. And I’m finally starting to be paid what I am worth.
And I credit all of it from a little test.
How should you study for the PE exam?
When it was time for me to buckle down and start studying for the exam, I panicked. I bought every study manual I could find, and signed up for an expensive practice class being put on by one of my old professors.
Then I stopped going about 3 classes in.
Eventually I found my grove, and it had nothing to do with lectures. In school I’d never really learned that way. Instead, I learned through example and practice problems.
Once I started to work that way. I noticed real results.
My scores on my practice tests started to go up, and I had a real possibility of hitting the illusive 75% mark that people spoke of.
Some good advice turned into a proven system.
Now, it’s not uncommon for me to receive emails like this every time the PE exam is over.
Do you think the PE would be beneficial for your career?
Then I have a few words of advice for you.
Take your Fundamentals of Engineering test as soon as possible, in school if you can. I took mine in my junior year of school, just in case, and it proved to be worthwhile. I didn’t have to study for this exam, being immersed in school was enough to be able to pass for me.
Choose a job where you work with, or under, other Professional Engineers. It’s required in order to sit for the exam.
And then come find me a few months before your PE.
About the writer, Skye J. Coleman, PE
Skye helps engineers to study for and pass their licensure test in less time. If you think that licensure is important for your career, then you need to be on his list. He can help cut your PE study time from 300 hours to under 100.