3 Thoughts for a New Professional Engineer

CONGRATULATIONS to you if you recently sat for the Professional Engineer (PE) exam. Just getting to the testing room is an accomplishment, and should you be one of the many that pass, you will be one of the newest engineers in the world and you should be very proud of your accomplishment.

The FE and PE exams were two of the hardest things I ever did. After spending countless hours trying to prepare for the test, I believe the only thing that allows you to pass is your ability to be an engineer and execute under stress. I spent about 12 hours on-site the day of my PE exam. It was exhausting and stressful. I remember walking out and sitting in my car, reflecting on the day after I loaded my two crates of books into the trunk. At that moment I had a new appreciation for anyone who has passed that exam.

Your road to this day has surely had bumps that included challenges. You may have thought you could never overcome them. Well, you did it! As news begins to spread among engineering professionals about your success, I wanted to offer you these thoughts:

1) Be confident but humble.

You have done it and you are, while there still may be some paperwork, a Professional Engineer. Reaching what I believe is the pinnacle of accomplishments for a civil engineer, smile and be proud. You have earned those letters PE on your new business cards, raising your status in the industry and your workplace. With that in mind, be humble and appreciate those you work with. Many of them helped you get to where you are, teaching and helping you learn along the way. I have worked with a lot of very qualified people who chose never to sit for the exam. These same co-workers taught me a lot of what I know and can still engineer circles around me. Some of those same coworkers will soon be coming to you to sign and seal their work.  Appreciate their value and remember you are only one member of a team of engineering professionals.

2) Prepare yourself for more responsibility. 

Signing and sealing documents and plans is exciting! Just remember the old phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is so true and that responsibility should not be taken lightly. No matter what role you have been in, your new role will be changing whether you want it to or not.

You will be assuming professional liability for the information contained in the engineering documents you are about to seal and therefore you are solely responsible for the quality control review of those documents. When there is an issue with those documents, you will be one of the first people to get a call.  Of course, your employer bears similar liability but you must remember you are accountable for the things you sign, you are the Engineer of Record.

If you are in a project management role, you may be looked at differently by those you meet. Everyone has their own stereotypes and expectations of a Professional Engineer. You may or may not meet these but be aware of the value others put in your opinion and perspective, simply because your business card says “PE”.

3) Never stop learning.

Since earning my license, I feel like I have been forced to gain a deeper understanding of so many different topics. In part, because I wanted to, but also because I am now signing and sealing designs. Technology is also rapidly influencing how things are engineered, so staying on top of current trends is also a key to being a well-rounded engineer. Remember that continuing education is required to maintain your license in good standing. Don’t just “go through the motions” when your renewal comes around.

Strive to learn something every day and remember you very well may be receiving new perspectives from the newest/youngest coworker or the most experienced mentor you have. You very well may be an expert in one or even several aspects of civil engineering but odds are that you are not an expert at everything. Lessons and new thoughts can come from anywhere at any time. Be prepared to receive and appreciate them.


Welcome to the new role and look forward to the opportunities being a Professional Engineer will provide you. Be proud of your accomplishments, you earned it and I know it was not easy! Keep your chin up, be happy, be humble, and go on to be the best engineer you can be. Congratulations!

If this resonates with you, let’s continue the conversation! Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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