Professional Engineer, but Forever a Student

by Angela Nappi on January 12, 2018


Sometime during my fall quarter as a freshman engineering student, I learned that there would be a test at the end of all of this, The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam. Back then it seemed like such a ways off, but it registered to me as a personal goal that would ultimately prove my education had come full circle.

Ten years later, the time had come and I entered 2017 on a mission. By the first of February, all of my documentation (and a bulk of my money) was together to send to the state for approval to sit for the exam in October. I spent a solid month afterwards working on my write up of professional experience to send to my endorsers. It was quite rewarding to see the variety of engineering projects I had worked on, something I may not have fully appreciated had I not been forced to look back. Three months later, I received a letter in the mail with the news that I was accepted. We celebrated!

In June, my father helped me build a desk out of old makeshift wood. I sit at that desk now and recount of my experience. On July 5, study season officially commenced. I signed up for Hello Fresh meal delivery service to make sure we would be fed, and told my friends and my family I wasn’t going to be making any plans with them until November. Two hours every night during the week, ramping up to include weekends by the end of August. Though it varied, for the most part this was my study tactic. I even brought my studying to the beach with me in September and lost only a few pages of notes to the Atlantic. I learned so much. Questions that had been queuing from my four years of experience were answered, while some others surfaced. I was engineering around the clock, even in my sleep.

October came and it felt like game time. It was as if I was nineteen years old again during finals week. The test day itself was kind of fun, kind of exciting. Hundreds of us filled the room but I found only one or two faces in the crowd that I recognized, unlike the FE exam where all of my classmates sat near. When I left the facility at 6 pm, I was just glad it was over, also glad for the intense page tabbing scheme I had employed on all of my resources. There is really only one question that may continue to haunt me. I will probably remember it for the rest of my life, but from what I have heard, this is normal for fellow test takers.

In the last month of 2017, the email from NCEES appeared in my inbox and made me shake. What a fine minute I shared with myself after seeing the result was written in green! I now uphold the engineering profession’s highest standard of competence, a symbol of achievement and assurance of quality. Looking back, I see it was the whole experience, the time spent invested in this field and not just passing the test, that has made me the professional engineer. This, perhaps, is something I may not have fully appreciated had I not been encouraged to look back and write it down.

The ASCE Infrastructure Report Card

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Every year, the American Society of Civil Engineers puts out a report card on the state of the nation’s infrastructure. That’s last year’s summary above, and the link has the details. What does it mean to say that our infrastructure is somewhere between mediocre and poor? Many of the areas of concern are less important […]

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A Certain Amount of Cloudy Irony

December 16, 2017

We’ve recently completed moving nearly all of our electronic operations to the cloud. Of course, that means it’s time for an Internet outage, and we had one yesterday. The heat map shows service failures for our ISP: My ideas about back-up partially worked. The bad news is that we lost a lot of productive time […]

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Better Demographics

November 17, 2017

I’ve recently read two articles that superficially are on different topics but go together well: Curbed on Tiffany Brown encouraging architectural careers for African-American women, and at the other end of the social spectrum, the Harvard Business Review on the benefits of diversity. The issues in engineering are similar in effect but different in detail from […]

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Privacy and Collaboration

November 10, 2017

It seems like everywhere I turn I’m finding another article on the downside of open office layouts. In one sense this doesn’t matter to us: we’re less than a year into an eight-year lease, so we’re pretty much stuck with what we’ve got, which is a group of semi-private rooms. Despite the lack of a […]

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Catching Up On People

November 8, 2017

Two interesting articles on firms and employees: on office manuals and new employees, and on emerging professionals. Linking to them is my way of saying that I’ve neglected talking about people for a while and we’ve been hiring. Our new people, in alphabetical order, are: Tawhid Chowdhury, who has a Bachelors of Civil Engineering from […]

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Fire and Information

October 28, 2017

I have nothing to add to this interview other than I found it to be a fascinating read. Fire fighting isn’t just about putting out fires, it’s about learning how to prevent them and how to reduce the risks they cause. 

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The Hedgehog And The Fox Debate Practice

June 29, 2017

The oldest version of the saying is from Archilochus: The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing. It shows up in Aesop and was more recently used as the based of an essay by Isaiah Berlin. If we strip away various morals that have been found in that one sentence, it is a comparison of […]

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Office Processes As Technology

May 31, 2017

I’ve talked before about the changes in office technology during just the period covered by my career – thirty years, so far – but I was recently reminded that the edges of “technology” blur imperceptibly into the surrounding social context. The internal operations of any office (I’ll use ours as an example) are a set […]

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Who Builds Your Architecture

April 23, 2017

Who Builds Your Architecture? is an ongoing discussion of the labor force in construction. Worth reading; worth thinking about, particularly the next time you hear about a mega-project.

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