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Many states require that a PE applicant have some number of years of "progressive engineering experience". Are there details as to what qualifies? For example, if an engineer is working in sales and not design, I would tend to think that would not count. But that's just my impression. Are there defined rules? General guidelines or standards of practice?

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  • $\begingroup$ Not directly applicable to the USA, but for the Chartered Mech. Engineer qualification in the UK you have a mentor appointed by the I. Mech. E to oversee your work experience, and you compile a logbook which is reviewed quarterly by the mentor to monitor your progress. This somewhat limits the scope for "retrospective creativity" in making the final application! $\endgroup$ – alephzero Apr 14 '15 at 21:18
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Along with the National Society of Professional Engineers, most professional engineering licensing boards within the United States use either of the following terms:

  • Qualifying engineering experience
  • Progressive engineering experience

And from what I have seen of European licensing requirements, their terminology is similar. For example, FEANI uses the term "valid professional experience."

You could just as easily rephrase the requirement to state "engineering experience that is progressive" if that helped the phrase make more sense to you. Grammatically, it's easier to say "progressive engineering experience."

So what does {qualifying | progressive | valid} engineering experience actually mean?

The "obvious" part is that the work experience has to be Engineering related. This pdf from the Minnesota government provides a really good overview of potential activities ranging from application of theory to management, communication skills, and understanding social implications of decisions.

Guidance from the state of Texas is also pretty explicit in focusing on what work the candidate actually performed instead of more general descriptions. Guidance from the state of Tennessee is pretty good at summarizing expectations regarding work experience:

Work Experience After passing the FE exam, you will continue your journey toward professional licensure by gaining engineering experience. Many jurisdictions have specific requirements about the type of experience you need to gain. Most require that you gain experience under the supervision of someone who is already licensed, and that your experience involve increasing levels of responsibility. Once you begin work, contact your licensing board to find out what experience is needed and talk with professional engineers in your company to find out how you can gain this experience.

The key in those is to demonstrate how the work experience of the candidate became progressively more difficult as they gained experience. For example, an Engineer with multiple years of experience is not still doing the exact same level or scope of work that they performed when they first started on the job. In other words, there is a progression in the level of work expected from the Engineer.

So if we look at those terms again, we can draw some conclusions:

  • Qualifying refers to the work being supervised by another PE and implies progressive experience.
  • Progressive refers to work that requires more and more skill in order to perform the task while also implying qualifying experience.
  • Valid professional experience manages to capture the essence of both qualifying and progressive but has supplementary documentation to explain that

Covering some of your related questions:

... if an engineer is working in sales and not design, I would tend to think that would not count. But that's just my impression.

"Sales" is a tricky aspect. FEANI implied in some cases that sales experience could qualify. From a US perspective, my belief is that sales experience is unlikely to qualify unless it was more of design-sell type role. The key would be "a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge, skills and attitudes for achieving observable results."
*That's courtesy of the FEANI supplementary guidance

Are there defined rules? General guidelines or standards of practice?

Based upon the above references, I would say there are guidelines and standards of practice. But the field of Engineering continues to evolve and strictly defined rules would be more limiting than useful.

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This answer is based on requirements for the state of Illinois; I'm going to make a reasonable assumption that other states in America have similar guidelines, as most states have a license by comity procedure that may involve obtaining references, but accepts the certification from other states as proof of experience and testing requirements.

Illinois Administrative Code on Approved Experience calls out the different ways in which you can reach the 4 year experience requirement to become a licensed Professional Engineer. Various equivalents are prescribed for obtaining graduate degrees or participating in coop programs during a bachelor's degree. Particularly relevant to this question are Sections (5) and (6), which notes that the length and validity of experience must be verified by either a licensed PE or someone who is practicing engineering (e.g. my supervisor was able to be verified by the Engineering Manager for our company, even though he is not a PE), and that the work must be "in the practice of professional engineering" as defined in Section 4(o) here.

This obviously leaves it open to a few people just deciding it's okay to lie, but I'm sure if the certification board is at all suspect, they can request further proof in the form of a resume, employment records, more references, etc.

I'll also qualify this by saying that I only feel comfortable extending this to the US, and possibly Canada, as I believe there are similar reciprocity agreements in place as exist between states. For the rest of the world, I'm not as familiar.

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  • $\begingroup$ State boards can and do follow up with experience listed as "in lieu of" directly mentored experience. Generally, the burden of proof for that type of experience to qualify as engineering experience is higher. And on a related note, individuals choosing to be dishonest during the application process do not alleviate the future PE of any liability resulting from future decisions. If anything, a faulty application for licensure would likely increase the penalties meted out should there be negligence. $\endgroup$ – user16 Apr 13 '15 at 21:33
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Every engineer who interviewed for a job could be classified as a sales engineer. Most engineering do perform internal or external sales functions within organization. In my opinion Sales Engineer is just title that for human resources and other management organizational structures. A good discussion about salesmanship can be found here.

Any engineer who has pass FE exam and performance any of the following functions listed below is eligible to sit for a PE exam. The functions are planning, scheduling, budgeting, contracting, supervision, project control, risk assessment, design, construction, evaluation, consultation, engineering, surveying, research and development, operations and management. Most sales engineers get involved in the above functions.

If an engineer’s work experience is obtained under the guidance and supervision of the PE is an absolute plus. But I think each state has their own procedure. It is best that you review the requirement for your state. Below are two excerpts from State of New Jersey and State of Tennessee.

New Jersey PE Work Experience Requirements

Note: New Jersey is emphasizing working under the supervision of a PE

New Jersey PE Work Experience Requirements]

Tennessee’s PE Work Experience Requirements

Tennessee’s  PE Work Experience Requirements

References:

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The state of California has some specific guidance as to what is considered experience. (California FAQ)

Qualifying engineering work experience is that experience in the appropriate branch of engineering which has been gained while performing professional level engineering tasks under the direction of a person authorized to practice in the branch of engineering in which the applicant is seeking licensure. There is no limit to the amount of such qualifying experience which will be accepted by the Board, provided that the experience meets the other requirements indicated herein. Applied engineering research is considered to be an engineering task, which may constitute qualifying experience.

Work in management, proposal writing, contract administration, estimating, sales, and other peripheral areas, however, is presumed to contain little or no element of qualifying experience, and therefore an applicant must provide a detailed explanation of what portions of such work are actually qualifying and why the Board's presumption is not correct, if the applicant expects to obtain any credit for this type of work. Such peripheral experience will then be evaluated on a partial credit basis as applicable to each applicant's particular situation. Thus, the actual credit allowed may range from near zero to a substantial amount.

Subprofessional work such as work normally performed by a drafter or a technician is not qualifying. Nor is construction inspection qualifying. However, work as a field engineer may be qualifying.

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