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Szatniasz
02-10-2004, 02:48 PM
Hi, new guy here. Found The Home Shop Machinist on the isles of a local Chapters about 2 months ago. Been reading the forums here for the past 2 weeks.

I'm about 23 and a Software Engineer by mistake. I don't really like sitting in front of a computer 40 hours a week and I'm thinking about a career change. You'll sooner find me in my garage rather than in front of my computer.

I would say that I mechanically inclined. I can rebuild a car engine, tap a thread, and even fabricate custom parts from fibreglass.

I'm looking for a career change and I like working with my hands and I was always fascinated by lathes and mills.

What kind of schooling would I need to become a machinist? What kind of schooling do you have or is it mostly experience?

Thanks,

Szatniasz

Al Flipo
02-10-2004, 02:59 PM
Lots of ways you can go on this, just stay away from people who have accumulated a lifetime of bad habits and are eager to pass them on to the new guy.

dnsbss
02-10-2004, 03:03 PM
Being a machinist as with most trades can be learned by schooling or on the job training.Even with schooling you will still have a while before you would what is considered a journeyman.School will teach you theory and the basics that you can use to solve problems for yourself better than just saying "Gee,I wonder what is gonna happen if I do this." When you get in a real shop you will see things you will never see in school.

dnsbss
02-10-2004, 03:05 PM
Check out your local community colleges also

nheng
02-10-2004, 03:11 PM
Szatniasz: Have you ever thought of marrying the two?

Software work in embedded systems for industrial control and custom machinery could allow you to get into both the control and processing (and DSP) end as well as being close enough to turn handles on the machines. A small-ish sized shop which does custom work might be a good place to pursue either or both.

I have a friend who is a senior/staff ME with a large hard drive company (large company, large drives http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//smile.gif ) but has as much electronics background as a lot of EEs. He frequently helps the EEs out of their problems while at the same time being the master of the mechanical side. The paycheck shows it too http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//wink.gif
Den

bspooh
02-10-2004, 04:39 PM
I applaud you (clap,clap,clap)...

I teach machine shop at a community college..I would welcome you with open arms...My classes are getting smaller and smaller each semester...It is very hard to recruit people into this trade..

My advice is to take some courses at your local community college..After just one semester, you could gain a wealth of knowledge...I don't know how much money you are making right now, but expect a substantial rate decrease...New machinists tend to start out with relatively low wages, but you can make a good living with a few years under your belt...Sacrifice a little money, and soon it will pay off...

Experience is everything to an employer..not just schooling..try to get your foot in the door somewhere, a lot of the time they will even pay for your schooling..

good luck,
brent

moldmonkey
02-10-2004, 05:08 PM
I agree on combining the two; like building machines in a custom automation shop.
Being able to build it and do the control software would be a great combo. Also the difference in wages for a software eng. and a entry-level machinist will be a shock.

Good luck and keep making chips, Jon

Szatniasz
02-10-2004, 05:51 PM
Good advice, thank you all.

What type of wage difference are we talking about? I currently make about $35K a year.

Szatniasz

[This message has been edited by Szatniasz (edited 02-10-2004).]

bspooh
02-10-2004, 05:58 PM
wages could start out between $20-25K a year for the first year...thats making roughly 10-12 an hour..

I don't know how the wages are in Canada..or anywhere else in the US..

Around here, good top notch machinists make about 18-25 an hour...

brent

canonicalman
02-10-2004, 06:07 PM
If you make $35k/yr you are way underpaid as a Software Eng. The lowest pay I know of is $45k for a fresh out.

I'm a software consultant. And while I like computer work in general, doing it professionally generally sucks. Slap it together so it sort of works and rush it out the door is the mantra in the industry. If you like to do a good job and take pride in your work you should generally stay away from software. It is definitely not my first choice of occupation. It just pays much more than other jobs, which in turn allows me to support my expensive inventing habbit.

You might as well bolt from the computer gig and get to school for machining. The lost income won't be as big a factor as you might think.

There is one significant difference between the world of software and that of machining: In machining, you have to do the job right the first time or pay a steep price, in software no one cares, you just fix the bugs in the next release and charge the customer for the privilege of doing so. You may find it difficult to make the jump from the software mindset to that of a machinist. If you don't have a lot of patience, and a bit of perfectionist in you, I don't think Machinist would be a good fit.

my $0.02

Evan
02-10-2004, 06:15 PM
CM,

You are sure right about rushing software to market. I spent most of last year beta testing a major new version of a package that will go un-named. It was released to manufacturing in about June complete with severe known problems, against my strongest advice and that of the other beta testers. They then spent the next five months fixing those problems while selling the defective release.

canonicalman
02-10-2004, 06:20 PM
Evan,

Yeah, could you imagine a customer comming to you for to machine a shaft, you make it 0.010 oversize, and when they bring it back, you charge them to fix it? You would be out of buisiness in a week. But, this is the norm in the world of software. Fortunately, they pay well for such nonsense.

jfsmith
02-10-2004, 06:43 PM
I am not sure where Stoney Creek is, but Toronto has a Model Engineers club, as does Hamilton. Just a thought.

Jerry

NAIT
02-10-2004, 07:19 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by dnsbss:
Check out your local community colleges also</font>

Around here (Conestoga College, in Waterloo, Ontario), there are two streams of training for machinists:

One is a formal work-release apprenticeship, under government direction, leading to examinations and journeyman status. You must have company sponsorship for that, and you aren't allowed to take the provincial/interprovincial exams without several thousand hours (7,500hr ?) of documented industrial apprenticeship.

The other is what Conestoga College called "Machine Tool Setup & Operate". This does not require concurrent apprenticeship. It involves eight hours of classes per week - half theory and half hand-on machining. The full cycle of courses to gain the MTSO Certificate takes about 2.5 years, though students can double up by taking two sessions each week and finish in about 1.25 years. However, the certificate will be in either lathe or mill - there's not enough time in a normal sequence to do both. Local industries have been know to advertise for "machinist apprentices *or* "MTSO students" in the Kitchener area, so the MTSO route seems to be gaining support. A completed MTSO Certificate is reckoned to be more or less equivalent to completing the first year of a four-year apprenticeship - perhaps a bit more. MTSO grads could step into an industrial machine shop without completely embarrassing themselves and they could be immediately useful.

I'm enrolled in the MTSO program - for hobby purposes - I couldn't afford to be a working machinist/apprentice at this stage in my life. In California, at DeAnza College, I had started on something similar called the "Experimental Machinist" program which also did not normally lead to an apprenticeship, but was for people who could turn out reasonable experimental pieces on lathe or mill for an electronics lab, or just wanted training for their machining hobby.

[This message has been edited by NAIT (edited 02-11-2004).]

ibewgypsie
02-10-2004, 07:19 PM
CNC machinist are inside nice warm dry shops working, I as a electrician work outside in the weather with switchgear, switchyards where the voltage is so high it stands the hair up on your arm.

Plenty of robotics related software that needs fixing that was done by young non-mechanical engineers. That is the largest growing field.

David

Woody Hales
02-10-2004, 11:55 PM
This might be a ramble but I have been exactly where you are right now, and no one told me this side of the story. About two and half years ago I decided I was quitting an ok job to become a machinist. I went to an amazing vo-tech program in Seattle at shore-line College where we had run of the mills (pun). Three new Okuma cadets mills, Okuma cadet and crown lathes and all the manual equipment that you could shake a stick at, as well as two different CAM software packages. While in the program I designed and made 15 functional large arbor fly fishing reels, a very difficult project but then again I had run of the mills. After a full year of having fun I was very fortunate to even find a job. I started as an aerospace machinist making parts for bombs, jetfighters, satellites, the space shuttle and even the parachute deployment system for the Mars Lunar Landing Craft. I personnel did not make the chips on that one but I was close enough to it to feel some ownership. Anyways, so after awhile the novelty wore off and there I was standing in front of my machine watching the clock hands creep by while I ran the same parts for week’s straight. I’ve sense talked to operators that have run the same parts for months and even longer. My excitement turned to despair. My co-workers negativity zapped my remaining resolve, I have never seen a more beat group. My mentor was making less now then he did in 1988 and he was the guy that could lathe drill a .023” hole in inkanel (Spelling is way off, it’s like hastalloy B, friggen rock hard). The point is that wages plateau quickly in the machine industry. And lastly, lets talk about health impacts and effects! Black buggers mean that bad things are going into your lungs. The coolant used in the cutting process gets little bits of way oil in it and when it is used in the cutting process it turns to steam, hens you breathe vaporized oil. I don’t smoke and within six months I developed serious respatory problems. I have also worked in IT, and making the move to the shop floor was like stepping back in time in regards to health hazards. Now with that said, I would not change the way I’ve lived my life. Because of the time I spent doing rotations in the inspection department I was able to get involved with our ISO 9001 internal audit. This has now led me to a career as a Quality Engineer and the future looks very bright from here. I still make chips, but now it’s in my garage and it’s a lot more fun. Good luck and please think this decision though thoroughly.

BillH
02-10-2004, 11:59 PM
I asked the shop foreman for a job, or apprenticeship, he said he would like to do one, but the upper management were not into the idea, other than that, he has a full crew working.
Tell yah the truth,if I had to do this stuff for a living, I dont think I would enjoy it as a hobby. But again... who knows.

NAIT
02-11-2004, 01:05 AM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Woody Hales:
Because of the time I spent doing rotations in the inspection department I was able to get involved with our ISO 9001 internal audit...This has now led me to a career as a Quality Engineer and the future looks very bright from here.</font>

Trust me, you're still vulnerable to layoffs and dead-end jobs unless you get ASQ certification as a Quality Engineer, or preferably get a real four-year Engineering or Engineering Technology degree and (depending on your state) a license as a Quality Engineer. It's a scandal and a joke in my industry that lots of people are suckered into working as "Quality Engineers" when it's really a technician's Inspection job. It's cheaper for employers to give out high-sounding titles and snicker up their sleeves than to actually pay well. These technicians are considered expendable at the first economic downturn. My advice is Go Back to School if you want a long career as a real Quality Engineer. You could also get respectably Certified as a Quality Technologist with somwhat less school.

This isn't a personal dig at you. It's just my long-term observation about how "Quality Engineers' are regarded in industry. More or less, you gotta have an engineering degree and/or Certification if you want respect as an engineer.

[This message has been edited by NAIT (edited 02-11-2004).]

Thrud
02-11-2004, 01:35 AM
Szatniasz
With your software background and some machinist experience you could easily pull down $100K/yr here in Canada. A machinist with any engineering background can easily get a job either as a company technical rep or service specialist if you don't want to get your hands dirty - if you do like getting dirty the field is wide open.

BillH
02-11-2004, 01:38 AM
Thrud, 100,000$? Hmmmm.. Oh wait, thats Canadian dollars http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//tongue.gif

Woody Hales
02-11-2004, 06:48 AM
NATE,

My reply wasn't intended to brag about my title. In truth I am a glorified librarian and second you make huge assumption in knowing my situation. The point is that when young talented people start sniffing around the trades arms are open and truths get stretched. Vocational instructors are my personnel favorite when it comes to painting the false picture. Because head count keeps programs open they need to attract students, you surmise the kind of information that a young person is going to get. The second unreliable source of information are the people who see that skilled jobs are going off shore and are fearful of what’s to come, so they encourage young talented people to fall into the ranks of the trades that hardly exist anymore. Now I am sure that somebody is out there writing a nasty rebuttal, so go ahead and lay your years of observation into me. But once again the reason for my original posting was to give insight to a young person who is standing currently where I stood not to long ago, where I was deceived into believing that there would be a bright future as a machinist, not the case!

Woody H.

Szatniasz
02-11-2004, 10:27 AM
Thanks alot everybody. I see that there is alot of good information and a wealth of experience from both sides of the camp.

I was also thinking about this program:

http://www.mohawkc.on.ca/calendar/pgmdata/batpa.pdf

Szatniasz

Cass
02-11-2004, 12:18 PM
Software "engineer"? What exactly does that mean in terms of education? I have a sanitation engineer who sweeps around here. This sounds rude but you have to be realistic about education and skills. Lots of people using the computer engineer, software engineer, computer scientist title with just some experience doing high level programming or just a lot of experience screwing around with a pc. Mathematics and other technical education matter in mechanical arts as well as in analytical areas. People with lots of training with paper to prove it generally make more money than those who wish for it. At 23 you are young enough to go to some engineering school if you are average smart and willing to work a lot harder than average. Engineering school is hard work and most who fail at it fail because they don't want to do the hard work it requires. Engineers start now days at $40-60K with no real experience. There is NO, absolutely NO free lunch. You have to be good to get the good jobs, no luck involved really. And whinning gets zero. Good luck on what ever you do. I started engineering school at 24.

win worm
02-11-2004, 04:20 PM
Hi Your half way there young man I would suggest to enroll at a local junior collage and take a few classes, try working at a local job shop on weekends see if it's really you, look into programing classes
This is where its at , good luck

jeastwood
02-11-2004, 06:36 PM
Hi Szatniasz,

Our situations are a bit similar, except that I've been doing software as a career for over 20 years. However, the thrill is gone for the most part. I'm very glad I discovered machining as a great hobby. And that's the essence of my advice: go ahead and take classes, and have fun with the tools, but unless you REALLY hate software, stick with that as your day job. With proper management of your career, you should be able to earn quite a lot more $$$, which translates to more toys in the shop.

Changing jobs frequently can be a good strategy to keep things interesting; consider being a contract programmer rather than a direct employee. You'll make more $$$, and see how things are done at different companies; you can get more experience in a shorter time. You'll work for a few good bosses, lots of bad ones, and maybe get hired and stay at a great company with a great boss. The nice thing about a contract position that turns out to be a nightmare is: it's temporary!

There are also so many areas of software: pure desktop programming, which can get prettty boring; but there is also embedded/real time programming, which can get WAY too exciting: robots, lasers, servo systems... the hardware/software interface is where the action is.

Then, there is design, architecture, analysis, requirements gathering and management, test, QA... Perhaps you haven't found your niche yet. Again, contracting can give you the opportunity to try lots of different types of work.

I took a shop course at Tektronix where I was working almost 20 years ago, and learned just enough about mill and lathe to know I wanted to have such tools someday when I could afford them. About 3 years ago I finally "snapped" and bought a Sherline benchtop lathe, and later the Sherline mill. It's been an orgy of model steam engines, telescope parts, tooling, etc., ever since.
I really enjoy the shop, after doing abstract things at a desk all day.

To sum up: you can have it all. No reason you should trust me or assume I know what I'm talking about, but you can look into contracting, and think about how you might make your current career more satisfying.

Best of luck,

JE

NAIT
02-12-2004, 12:35 AM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Szatniasz:
I was also thinking about this program:http://www.mohawkc.on.ca/calendar/pgmdata/batpa.pdf</font>

It's a relatively new phenomenon - these four-year bachelor's degrees being offered at "community colleges" in Ontario. I think they are a mistake. There's a big difference between the intellectual atmosphere of a community college and a university. I'm a traditionalist in thinking a bachelor's degree should be such a wrenching, expanding, life experience, that it really requires four years immersion in a university environment with like-minded students and professors. It just doesn't happen in a typical community college with a two-year vocational orientation.
The best attempt in Canada to "bridge the gap" was Ryerson Polytechnic, offering three-year Technology degrees, but that was screwed up by eliminating the Technology degree and changing Ryerson from being an excellent, world-class, Polytechnic, into a mediocre University.

If you want a good "Applied Technology" degree, American Universities and 4-year Institutes do it best. Get a TAC/ABET-accredited BSET degree in "Engineering Technology" or a NAIT-accredited BSIT degree in "Industrial Technology". If you have the money for tuition, you should go South. See, for example, www.oit.edu (http://www.oit.edu.).

[This message has been edited by NAIT (edited 02-12-2004).]

JC
02-16-2004, 08:24 PM
With your background in computers take rapid prototyping.I've been a machinist for 36 years and just made the career change.

Techtchr
02-16-2004, 09:06 PM
This is my vote for going back to school and obtaining the education you need to do what you think you may want to do. My personal experience with school started in 1979 when I went to a two year school and received an AAS degree. I finally got sick of the things I was doing and went back to obtian my BS in 1997 and MS in 1999. Although it was nerve racking and a bit scarey it was well worth it. I've since convinced my wife that getting her four year degree is worthwhile. She should finish in another year or so. You may be wondering how we do it financially. Well, we rarely go out to dinner, I repair most of the things that need fixing around the house, my daughters don't have any expensive toys, and in general we are on the pay as you go plan for most everything. Both of us work, and I must say my wife works longer and harder than I do.

Go for it. Get the education, and if you don't like what you are doing keep searchying until you find something you enjoy.
Good luck, Matt

pgmrdan
02-16-2004, 09:22 PM
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[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

metal mite
02-17-2004, 01:19 PM
It used to take a talented mechanic four years at low pay doing every crap job in the shop to become a machinist.

In a new job, you were expected to set up and operate any machine in the shop on the first day and make good parts.

If they was real nice, they mite show you where to turn the machine on.

Now every button pusher claims to be a machinist after a couple of months.

Times change.

mite

Evan
02-17-2004, 03:19 PM
Don't know about the US but in Canada the Society of Professional Engineers gets real bent out of shape if you call yourself an engineer without the appropriate educational qualifications. Xerox wanted to change the job title for Service Representatives to Customer Service Engineer and the SPE jumped down their throat. They must have some sort of clout since the change didn't happen.

In my dealings with "Software Engineers" as a beta tester I insist on calling them programmers and they get all bent out of shape http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

NAIT
02-17-2004, 04:30 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Evan:
Don't know about the US but in Canada the Society of Professional Engineers gets real bent out of shape if you call yourself an engineer without the appropriate educational qualifications.</font>

In Canada, the term "[...] Engineer" is much better protected by law than in the USA. Except for a very broad "industrial exemption", the various provincial Engineer Licensing Boards have the legal backing to prohibit the use of "engineer" titles. Even so, they Provincial Boards are mostly toothless and incompetent - spending their time splitting hairs on what is and isn't ethical behavior for engineers, and making it difficult for engineers to get registered, rather than going after massive misuse of "engineer" titles. Some years ago, one of the Provincial boards (and some USA State Boards) tried to prevent Microsoft from calling their MCSE grads "Certified Systems Engineers" but Microsoft more or less ignored them successfully.

Most USA boards require degreed engineers wanting their license to have four years of work experience and write two eight-hour exams. Non-degreed candidates wanting to become Professional Engineers must have 8~10 or more years experience (depending on the state) and pass the same (difficult) exams. In Canada, the Provincial Boards makes foreign (ie non North American) engineers pass multiple exams, as if they were writing final exams for each subject in an engineering curriculum. Few engineers can afford the time, so they don't bother getting registered. This policy by the Canadian Boards is a waste of engineering talent.

They even make it difficult for engineers transferring from other states or provinces. I'm currently registered in California as an electrical engineer, and was previously registered in Manitoba. Even so, I have to jump through a lot of hoops and write a stupid Politically Correct exam on ethics to get Registered in Ontario, where I'm currently working.

[This message has been edited by NAIT (edited 02-17-2004).]

pgmrdan
02-17-2004, 04:46 PM
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[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

BillH
02-17-2004, 04:58 PM
One of my old bosses is a self proclaimed Electrical engineer. Sure he know's how to design a good circuit and board, just doesn't have the college degree.

pgmrdan
02-17-2004, 08:23 PM
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[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

BillH
02-17-2004, 09:07 PM
well its him and the owner, between both of them, I don't think it really matters. The owner is a true EE.

rfrey
02-18-2004, 12:58 AM
I'm a software engineer. I have a four-year degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering from the University of Alberta. I learned how to design microchips and do power electronics, but I chose to specialize in software engineering: the application of time-tested engineering principles to software design and construction. It's a young field, but it exists.

Rod

NAIT
02-18-2004, 03:35 AM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by rfrey:
I'm a software engineer. I have a four-year degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering from the University of Alberta.</font>

Will you be registered as a PEng with APEGGA ?

Got your Iron Ring ?

Evan
02-18-2004, 03:46 AM
Rod,

I wrote my first program in 1963. As yet, although much time and effort has been expended in pursuit of a solution, there is not any way to rigourously determine that a complex software solution is logically correct in all aspects. It is not the same as mechanical or electrical engineering, as you well know. There is no set of formulae that may be applied to a set of complex logical rules that will determine the outcome regardless of the total possible inputs. The number of possible logical outcomes in today's software overwhelms the capability of anyone to analyze it in a logical fashion. As an example, Windows XP contains between 25,000,000 and 30,000,000 lines of source code, all modules considered. It is possibly more difficult than determining all the possible outcomes of a chess game. The most complex program I ever wrote contained about 10,000 lines of assembler code with about 1000 declarations and it took me six months to debug, I think.

Although I do think that software engineering is a possibly valid description for someone who works in the field it is still not rigourous enough in my view to qualify as a true engineering science. It still contains too much art.

Al Messer
02-18-2004, 10:11 AM
Learn to be a Dentist----those jobs won't be shipped overseas.

pgmrdan
02-18-2004, 10:22 AM
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[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

NAIT
02-18-2004, 11:52 AM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by pgmrdan:
I don't mean to be rude Rod, but who says you are a Software Engineer? Are you an honest-to-goodness legally authorized/acknowledged Software Engineer? Are you recognized by a government body to be a Software Engineer?</font>

There's a lot of abuse of the term "engineer". It is cheaper to hand out "engineer" titles than to pay well. Confusion about who is and isn't an engineer is understandable in countries where the word "engineer' is commonly used to describe machinists and related trades. In New Zealand, a "machinist" is a sewing machine operator.

In the case of "software engineer", I note there are seven accredited programs in Software Engineering in Canadian University Schools of Engineering - meaning graduates are eligible for Iron Rings and Registration as Professional Engineers. There are also sixteen accredited programs in Computer Engineering. I think we can say they are both now established forms of Engineering, even though most "Software Engineers" in industry are not engineers, and are more accurately computer programmers or technicians.

[This message has been edited by NAIT (edited 02-18-2004).]

NAIT
02-18-2004, 11:52 AM
delete

[This message has been edited by NAIT (edited 02-18-2004).]

pgmrdan
02-18-2004, 12:07 PM
.

[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

JCHannum
02-18-2004, 12:10 PM
Did any of those managers have pointy hair?

pgmrdan
02-18-2004, 12:59 PM
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[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

NAIT
02-18-2004, 08:24 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by pgmrdan:
I was looking into the topic about a year and a half ago and from what I found the US doesn't have any Software Engineering programs and I thought that Canada didn't have any either. Since Canada has them I hope that we won't be too far behind.</font>

I found four ABET-accredited Software Engineering programs in the USA: Clarkson U., Milwaukee School of Engineering, Mississippi State, and Rochester Institute of Technology. Interestingly, they all got their accreditation in 2003 - right after you looked.

pgmrdan
02-19-2004, 05:41 PM
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[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

rfrey
02-20-2004, 06:01 PM
NAIT: Yeah, I have my iron ring, and I wear it. I won't be registering with APEGGA, though, because it's too darn hard to get a mentor who takes software engineering seriously. I wear the iron ring because it's a reminder of my responsibilties to do my job correctly, regardless of the politics of certification. It's pretty much a done battle at the university level... witness the recent amalgamation of Electrical and Computer engineering at the University of Alberta's engineering faculty. But there's lots of guys (I say "guys" advisedly) in the APEGGA ranks who figure that if you're not in heavy industry, you're not an engineer.

They might be right, I suppose. Evan, I agree wholeheartedly with you that simply writing software does not qualify one as an engineer -- not even writing software well. But I disagree that engineering never has a place in software. I agree that most software being created has little connection with engineering. However, I believe the "art" versus "engineering science" distinction is a bit of a red herring. There are a few reasons for that:
- The existence of practitioners who do not follow engineering practice does not disprove the existence of engineering practice. There are lots of backyard inventors doing things by the seat of their pants, but that doesn't mean mechanical engineers don't exist.
- The existence of an engineering practice does not remove the role of art. A mechanical engineer can create an elegant solution to a mechanical problem, and arrive at it though a combination of experience, creativity, and artistry. The engineering comes in when he proves the solution is correct and sufficient.
- Software is complex (I'm referring to your example of Windows XP), but I see that as an argument for, rather than against, engineering practice. Software programmers (I am one, I know!) are fond of whining about how difficult their problem domains are: however, I doubt that the most complex of computer programmes approaches the complexity of the systems in a highrise building, for example.

Software is a system, like any other system: it can be put together by experience, vision, and sheer force of will; or it can be analysed and broken down into understood parts that can be assembled by people skilled in the trade. Building bridges was once an art: it is now engineering. There exist sound engineering standards and principles for software design. The main reason most of the industry pooh-poohs them (I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about the Arthur Andersons and Coopers Lybrands of the world) is that should the "word" get out in a big way, customers would start to think that 75% project failure rates and 250% budget overruns were somehow unacceptable.

Some examples of sound engineering practices that are always nodded at and rarely followed:
- Development process definined and followed (CMM, RUP, doesn't matter... just FOLLOW it.)
- Test code written before production code
- Preconditions and postconditions of methods defined and tested using assertion frameworks
- Tracibility of coding activities to design activities and use cases

A long winded way of saying "I am TOO an engineer!!!". Well, I'm probably not, but I'm at least as much an engineer as the MechE who designs a board game for Hasbro.

Rod.

Evan
02-20-2004, 07:15 PM
Rod,

I agree with most of what you say. What I was trying to point out is that, despite many efforts, there is still no rigorous method to prove the correctness of a non-trivial program. Even though a computer is a wholly deterministic machine, programmers are not. Can you say unequivocally that a complex program has NO mistakes or bugs? If not, then why not? Does any method exist to predict all possible outcomes from all possible inputs and initial conditions. Good example is the Spirit Rover.

I fully agree that designing software is a science as are other engineering disciplines. However, software design is not as well understood and quantified as, say, mechanical engineering. Like the standing joke goes, if your car were as reliable as Windows it would have to be towed every day and would blow up several times per year.

I know the highrise will have mistakes too but those are a different class of error, usually. Today they don't usually occur due to a lack of ability to predict the outcome of design decisions. Yes, I know some do, but not most.

I anxiously await the development of software tools that can test a program and ensure that no undiscovered or unanticipated problems exist. Unfortunately I have a feeling it ain't going to happen. There are just too many ways for us humans to screw up.

BillH
02-20-2004, 07:23 PM
Maybe I said this before, I forget. You can spend hours working on software on a computer, but it ceases to exist when you turn off the computer. I'd rather be machining something for hours, then get to play with it in real life. Why I hate computers now. I went to college to get a Comp Sci degree, now I am doing a history degree. sigh...

BillH
02-20-2004, 07:25 PM
Al, My dad is a dentist, Problem with dentistry is that theres too many dentists, in another 15 to 20 years, most dental practices wont be worth much.
Now being an Orthodontist, the guy that does braces, thats a good thing.

rfrey
02-20-2004, 08:54 PM
Evan,

I think our viewpoints have more in common than apart. Certainly there's no way to reproduce the full set of inputs and possible outputs of a computer program: but proof of correctness does not require that approach. A microchip such as a Pentium 5 has similar issues: full testing is n-complete. But methods are devised to provide testing coverage without requiring coverage of all possible inputs. Would you say that designing a microchip like the Pentium is not engineering because testing cannot be complete when defined in that way?

The point about software design is well taken. I think one of the issues confounding good software creation today is the way "programming", "design", and "engineering" have been conflated and confounded. Those semantics may be behind some of our discussion here! As I see it (read: in my perfect world), "programming" is the realization of an engineering design of the program. The "design" is where the art occurs and is properly done by user interaction experts. (The best author I know of on the subject is Alan Cooper: About Face I and II.) The roles are roughly analogous to architect, civil engineer and builder. Nowadays, and certainly with most software on the market, those roles tended to be stuffed into one person or one team (where the same people did all three).

That said, even in the best engineering efforts there are failures: certainty isn't the mark of a true engineering discipline. Bridges fall down, vehicular lemons get sold. The same would happen in software even if my fantasy world were to become reality.

Rod.

pgmrdan
02-20-2004, 08:58 PM
.

[This message has been edited by pgmrdan (edited 03-08-2004).]

NAIT
02-20-2004, 10:16 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by rfrey:
NAIT: Yeah, I have my iron ring, and I wear it. I won't be registering with APEGGA, though, because it's too darn hard to get a mentor who takes software engineering seriously. I wear the iron ring because it's a reminder of my responsibilties to do my job correctly, regardless of the politics of certification...[T]here's lots of guys...in the APEGGA ranks who figure that if you're not in heavy industry, you're not an engineer.</font>

You should get registered regardless, since you are eligible. The "mentoring" aspect is not looked at too closely. Either get a electrical PEng to "mentor" you or have one assigned to you by APEGGA. PEng status does carry weight as you climb the engineering ladder. I've know Professional Engineers to reject candidates for jobs or promotion if the candidate neglects to have PEng status or sneers at the PEng requirements. This will never be said, and you'll never know why you lost the job opportunity, but it does happen. Even if you never use the PEng seal (except to stamp your library books), and even if PEng Registration is not absolutely necessary in your field, "PEng" looks good on your resume and on your business card. For one think, it is looked on favourably when you try to get a USA Work Permit, where it is considered the equivalent of a Master's degree. Also, if you want to do self-employed consulting work, the PEng is a legal requirement, or you may find your clients refusing to pay, and getting away with it.

[This message has been edited by NAIT (edited 02-20-2004).]

ibewgypsie
02-20-2004, 10:39 PM
Everytime after I cut a bunch of Swarf and chips... I am a sanitation engineer. I clean up.

Sooner of later. What is a engineer? Most engineers are so far removed from common sense they should not be allowed to design things. Putting 3 runs of 500 mcm with splices into a 12 x 12 box? What were they thinking? They should all work in the field for years before being allowed to continue thier education to the engineer level.

Ohh yeah, I am considered a controls "Engineer". Or at least that is what I was paid for 4 years as. ISA considered me a level 3 certified controls technician by 8 hour test. Engineering level.

Software engineer? Yes, I am one of them too.

So is my child when she stacked blocks. All ifs and's and Not's (*they fall) Ha..

My older brother is a PE, Professional engineer. Yeah.. another title. Can he design panels large enough to terminate 500 mcm? Maybe.

rfrey
02-21-2004, 01:19 PM
Nait: Thanks for the advice, I'll give it some careful consideration. In university, back before I grew into my current political apathy, I had raging battles with representatives from APEGGA about what constituted eligible work for the 4 year trainee period. At that time (4 years ago), what it came down to was:
- Working on software that enabled "real" engineering work (i.e., working on AutoCAD, pipeline design software or the like) counts
- Anything else doesn't

Which struck me as absurd. My work since then has been security systems using biometric authentication, mostly fingerprints and iris recognition. Serious work involving significant hardware integration and integration of knowledge from several related fields. But I was told the work was ineligible.

But I was told that by one person who I was having a heated discussion with. And I was righteously indignant at the time. So I wrote off the organization. I should probably reconsider.

Rod.

NAIT
02-21-2004, 02:39 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by rfrey:
I had raging battles with representatives from APEGGA about what constituted eligible work for the 4 year trainee period...what it came down to was:
- Working on software that enabled "real" engineering work (i.e., working on AutoCAD, pipeline design software or the like) counts
- Anything else doesn't. Which struck me as absurd. My work since then has been security systems using biometric authentication, mostly fingerprints and iris recognition. Serious work involving significant hardware integration and integration of knowledge from several related fields. But I was told the work was ineligible.</font>

I think you'll find the APEGGA has a broad definition of "engineering work". There is a hazy line to distinguish engineering from non-engineering work, but Provincial Licensing Bodies would rather be inclusive. Lots of "Sales Engineers" qualify even though they never do a calculation in the 2-4 years of their EIT training. Main thing is to get on board right away as an Engineer-In-Training, and get a flexible mentor who is on your side (and who doesn't have to work where you work).

Another possibility is to walk across the border to Montana or Idaho and write their EIT/FE exam. Then two (?) years later write their second exam, and get a Montana license. Use the Montana license to leverage an Alberta licence. But this is an extreme measure that shouldn't be necessary. Incidentally, the States' EIT/FE exam is the hardest exam you'll ever write...