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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:

  1. Can the name of my LLC include the phrases "Software Engineer", "Software Engineering", or similar derivations thereof?

  2. 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?

  3. 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:

  1. 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.

  • You asked "is the very activity of practicing something that could be called engineering restricted?" Yes, depending on the state. The Texas Engineering Practice Act says that "A person may not engage in the practice of engineering unless the person holds a license issued under this chapter." However, it's also specific on what that "practice of engineering" entails; it does not cover anything and everything that "could be called engineering". Generally, software work that affects the public health or welfare would be considered "engineering" here, but not developing word processors or games. – Ben Voigt Sep 3 '18 at 22:03
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Can the name of my LLC include the phrases "Software Engineer", "Software Engineering", or similar derivations thereof?

No. Not based on what you've posted. Go to the definitions to see how engineer is defined. It may be they are talking about actual structural engineers or environmental engineers, where if you're wrong people die. But based on above, you can't use the word engineer unless you're licensed as such. Is there even a license for computer engineer? This seems more like it could be a term of use but not actually descriptive of what you're doing. IDK. You'd have to see the definitions and exceptions.

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?

Yes, your CV is supposed to say what you have done, and learned and especially published (lest it's just a resume), but the answer as far as promotional materials, is NO. This, because you don't post your cv on your ad's and if you put that, you will likely be found to be trying to pose as a licensed professional based on a technicality. If that happens the licensing authority will probably censure you by disallowing a license when your qualify.

If asked directly by a client, am I even allowed to divulge my area of study accurately,(of course, but you'd also have to divulge the fact that you are not licensed and cannot act in that capacity)

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)? It could be if the person reports that you are soliciting work as an engineer w/out a license.

It's like a person who went to law school, passed the bar, but never got sworn in. They cannot solicit business as a lawyer.

Unless there is a license for being a computer programer, there is nothing barring you from using that terminology.

You could be, that if you look up the definition prior to the statue, that it says something like "for the purposes of this section the term engineer means…", In which case it doesn't even apply to you.

  • Thanks for your answer, very helpful! A couple of clarifications: regarding my CV, suppose I post it on the "About Us" section of my company website under by bio (for instance). It is linked to my business, but is not necessarily promotional material. What about putting the full name of my graduate degree on a business card, if the degree title contains the phrase "Software Engineering"? The information is still true and accurate, but it's clearly being used for promotion (or at least it could reasonably be interpreted as such). What about adding a link to my LinkedIn account? Etc. – Patrick87 Sep 21 '15 at 20:53
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    It's like a person who went to law school, passed the bar, but never got sworn in. They cannot solicit business as a lawyer. Suppose I worked as a lawyer in Nevada, legally, and now I am working as... let's say... a freelance writer, say on legal topics. I think I understand that I can't profess to be a lawyer in the new jurisdiction (not sure how reciprocity might work, but ignore that), but would I still legally be able to say that I had studied law and worked as a lawyer, but that I am now a "Legal Opinionist"? How does that work? – Patrick87 Sep 21 '15 at 20:59
  • Re your CV, all of that is fine. As long as you make clear that you are not an engineer. So, if you want tout that you passed the test for it, or that you took a course in it, nobody is legislating away your right to recall your educational history. You just cannot couch it in a way that would make the ordinary person believe you're a licensed professional. Just a question, why not just get licensed if you meet all of the qualifications? – gracey209 Sep 21 '15 at 22:18
  • re question 2, again, yes. You cannot be prevented from saying your educational or employment history (unless your in the CIA maybe). But seriously, of course you can say you are licensed in Nevada. A legal opinionist is not a thing, but you can always recount what you do. You cannot say you are qualified to practice law. Period. Because without a license in that jurisdiction you're not. But you can do legal work as a paralegal, list your credentials, etc., In that scenario, though, if the bar thinks you are holding yourself out as qualified to practice, you'll likely never get licensed. – gracey209 Sep 21 '15 at 22:23
  • Thanks for the follow up! As to why I don't get licensed - I probably could manage to pass the tests, but that's somewhat beside the point; much of that material is irrelevant for people writing software professionally (e.g., thermodynamics). To see this, it suffices to see that it is not required by accredited curricula. In any event - sounds like "Computer Programmer" or "Software Developer" are better candidates, I don't have to censor/sanitize my past, and just make sure I'm up front about not being a licensed engineer. Sounds straightforward :) – Patrick87 Sep 22 '15 at 0:23

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