This is strictly hypothetical for the moment and I will retain qualified legal counsel before making any real-world decisions. This question is only to get a general idea of what to expect.
Suppose I live in a state that licenses the practice of professional engineering, and I want to start up an LLC to do freelance computer programming work. Suppose there is in force and effect, as there is in the state of Alabama (not where I live, but my state's statute looks similar - see http://www.bels.alabama.gov/pdf/laws/LawCode-July2014.pdf) a law which stipulates, roughly, the following:
In order to safeguard life, health, and property, and to promote the public welfare, the practice of engineering in this state is a learned profession to be practiced and regulated as such, and its practitioners in this state shall be held accountable to the state and members of the public by high professional standards in keeping with the ethics and practices of the other learned professions in this state. It shall be unlawful for any person to practice or offer to practice engineering in this state, as defined by this chapter, or to use in connection with his or her name or otherwise assume, use, or advertise any title or description including, but not limited to, the terms engineer, engineers, engineering, professional engineer, professional engineers, professional engineering, or any modification or derivative thereof, tending to convey the impression that he or she is a professional engineer unless the person has been duly licensed or is exempt from licensure under this chapter. A person whose firm name shall have contained the word “engineer,” “engineers,” or “engineering,” or words of like import, for more than 15 years before September 12, 1966, shall not be prohibited from continuing the use of such word or words in his or her firm name.
Suppose that my undergraduate college degree is in Computer Science and the program is regionally accredited and accredited by the ABET-CAC standards before I enrolled and that the program has continuously maintained that accreditation. Suppose further that I received a Master's degree in "Computer Science and Software Engineering" the accreditation status of which w.r.t. ABET is not given. Finally, suppose I have not taken or passed Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) or Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exams and have neither applied for nor obtained professional licensure in my current state.
Finally, my questions:
Can the name of my LLC include the phrases "Software Engineer", "Software Engineering", or similar derivations thereof?
Can my resume, curriculum vitae, or my advertising or promotional materials accurately report the subjects I studied in college as the subject matter of "Software Engineering", to the extent that this information is true and accurate?
If asked directly by a client, am I even allowed to divulge my area of study accurately, or would it be a violation of the law to claim I had engineering knowledge since I have studied (and practiced) software engineering in the past (for instance, at previous places of work in states which did not have these kinds of limitations, or for corporations which did not offer my services to the general public)?
My intuition says that I can't be penalized simply for speaking the truth, but clearly there is some behavior the law is intending to prevent. Would the use of he phrase "Software Engineering", generally speaking, be a way to skirt these kinds of regulations in states that might typically only think of engineering licensure as applying to, e.g., civil/mechanical/etc. kinds of engineers? Note that until very recently (and perhaps even now) there's not really a realistic option for most practicing software professionals to pass the FE, as it covers topics not typically required of computer science or software engineering students (at least at the time I was in school).
EDIT: Follow-up question:
- Am I even allowed to practice "Software Engineering" in such a state if I call it, for instance, "Computer Programming" or "Software Development" instead? Or is the very activity of practicing something that could be called "engineering" restricted?
This is a possibility that also occurred to me but I would find this somewhat harder to believe.