Today is a sad day for me.  I've been told that 9 years worth of engineering experience that I have under my belt is not good enough to allow me to obtain a license to practice engineering in Ontario. :(

As most of you know, I studied mechanical engineering at U of T, went on to a research master's there, and then worked for almost 8 years at ATS designing factory automation systems.  The job at ATS was a dream job for mechanical engineering grads, because it was one of the few jobs that actually allowed you to apply what you learned in university on your job on a daily basis.  There, I did cool stuff like designing high-accuracy placement machines, high-accuracy dispense systems, laser systems, vision systems, and applied engineering concepts like heat transfer, vibration analysis, dynamics, etc.  Today, I was told it wasn't enough.

Red Tape
It all began a few years back when I decided to go through the formal process of getting licensed in Ontario.  (I heard that one can get great car insurance discounts through Meloche Monnex when one is a member of Professional Engineers of Ontario!)  When I submitted my application, PEO had asked for official ID to verify my identity, which I believe included a Canadian birth certificate or a citizenship card.  So, I gave copies of my citizenship card.  My name on my file came out as "Kwok Tao Wong", which was my Chinese name, and I asked for it to be changed to "Felix Wong", which was the only name that showed up in a majority of my documents, including the citizenship card.  However, "Kwok Tao Wong" also shows up there, and therefore, PEO decided that it was going to be "Kwok Tao Wong" and nothing else, not even the other name that shows up on the same document.  Ok, so I decided I wasn't going to lose sleep over it, but my thought at that time was, "What am I getting myself into?"

It then took me literally a couple of years to finish writing my experience summary, which was meant to describe what engineering work I had done in my career.  When I submitted it for review as part of the Engineering-In-Training (EIT) program, the reviewers told me that the experience looked good, was applicable, but just make sure that more actual calculations were included.  So, after taking that advice to heart, I put in a number of calculations and I thought maybe I put in too much.  The summary was supposed to be 10 pages but I had 17, mainly because I held several positions and felt obligated to write a little on each position.  That turned out to be a fatal mistake.

I had worked at ATS for almost 8 years, nearly double of what I needed to obtain the engineering license.  I then moved on to Ainsworth, where I had worked mainly in project management and process improvement, which would not be direct engineering experience.  But because the 5 areas of engineering experience covered things like management of engineering, etc. I decided to write whatever was applicable.  The letter I got back from PEO said something to the extent of, "the majority of your work was in business operations and facilities management, therefore, we need to interview you."  My first reaction was, "Did you actually read my summary?"  How is 4 years at Ainsworth considered a majority of my work experience, compared to 8 years at ATS?  I was puzzled.

At that point, I had a bad feeling about the whole thing.  Ok, so the name thing was not such a big deal, but now, I need to go to the PEO office and make a defense of my experience.  I know of many people who have done much less actual engineering in their work and are walking around with "P.Eng." after their names.  Why was I selected to be scrutinized in this fashion?

Long story short, I presented at the interview a project I had worked on at ATS and shown my work including accuracy analysis, cycle time analysis, and a conceptual design for a cold staking station, but at the end, I was told that the type of work I presented was too elementary, like it was 2nd year engineering work, and did not have enough breadth.  My friends at ATS, please tell me what you do (and I did) is not 2nd year engineering work!  I felt outraged, but managed to keep my composure.  One of the gentlemen kept saying, "It's not enough to say I did this and that for 6 months, 8 years ago."  I corrected him, saying, "No, it's 4 years ago and I did it for 8 years."  Still, it went in one ear and out the next.

Alas, I think it was really my fault.  I applied for the license too late in my career.  The question surfaced at the interview and also at the EIT review, "You are not practicing mechanical engineering now, why are you pursuing a license now?"  It's a fair question for someone to ask, but it is not a fair question to ask when considering licensing.  I don't recall reading anywhere in the Professional Engineers Act or even in any of the documentation from PEO that the 4 years of engineering experience had to be current experience.

I feel that going into the interview, there had been some prejudice against me, because I was not currently practicing engineering.  Or maybe it's all in my head.  Maybe my written and oral communication skills suck and I wasn't able to convey that my work had indeed been engineering work.  Somehow, I doubt that...

Is There Meaning to This?
Is there any meaning to this episode of my life?  I don't know.  I just feel really agitated at the moment so much so that I had to rant here to let out some steam.  Do I really need a P.Eng.?  Hey, maybe not, since I'm not actually practicing engineering at this point in my career?  But I have this gut-wrenching feeling that I always get when I've been a victim of some unjust act.

There's a part of me that tells me there is a meaning to this episode, and I recall another instance earlier in my life.  During my 4th year in university, I had this great idea that I should apply to MIT for their master's program.  I had been at the top of my class and didn't think it was out of reach, but it was kind of an ego thing.  Wouldn't it be prestigious to say I graduated from MIT?  So, I went ahead and prepared for the GRE exam.  On the practice exams, I did absolutely great and had gotten really respectable scores.  Then, the day of the exam came around and as I sat in front of that computer terminal, I froze.  I couldn't get some of the answers in the test and got so discouraged that I didn't even choose to see my score.  Obviously, I gave up on those hopes pretty quickly.  Afterwards, I reflected on the whole thing and realized that the intention of applying to MIT was all wrong.  Maybe doing badly on the exam was God's way of telling me that that's not His way.  Perhaps applying for P.Eng. is a similar thing.  I really didn't need it, but boy, wouldn't it be nice to be able to finally call myself an engineer and to have a few more letters after my name?

For now, I think I'm going to say this is a conclusion of my attempt at getting licensed.  I have no desire to appeal the decision or to somehow obtain related experience in my current job that offers no such opportunity.  Perhaps, God will reveal the meaning to me in due time...
This post was written on September 30, 2015, while I was 25000 ft above ground over British Columbia.

I'm writing this on my way from Vancouver to Fort McMurray, on a small Bombardier Dash 8 prop.  Usually, I'd be fast asleep by now but because this plane flies at a relatively low altitude, the view outside the window is too beautiful to pass up.

View from the Plane Over the Rockies in BC

Fort What?
You're probably thinking either of 2 things right now.  Where is Fort McMurray or if you know where Fort McMurray is, why is he going there?  As the tourist's destination of choice in Canada, I'm flying there to...just kidding!  It's really for work.  In 4 days, we would have covered 3 cities/time zones (Halifax, Vancouver, Fort McMurray), but earned only about 1000 Aeroplan points.  :(  The nice thing about travelling for work is that it'll bring you to places you typically wouldn't travel to during personal travel.  The bad thing about travelling for work is that it'll bring you to places you typically wouldn't travel to during personal travel. :)

At Ainsworth, we've been working on the implementation of a new work order management system that is to be rolled out company wide.  We're a midsize company (not a household name, but we did build the electrical systems of Toronto landmarks such as then Skydome and CN Tower) with about 800 employees across the country and this software will affect a large majority of the company.  That's why we're visiting the different branch locations to show them what's coming down the pipe.  I'm the project manager for this project and we've got a top notch team, and am very grateful because the team makes me look good!

Hilarious Sign I Spotted in the Airport Washroom

So, WHAT Do You Do? 
Throughout my career, I've been plagued by uncommon and non-descriptive titles.  When people ask me what I do, I usually hesitate to tell them my title because of this.  When I worked at ATS, my title was Systems Designer.  Now, my title is Manager, Business Process Management.  As you can see, anyone's response would be, "so really, what do you do?"  So, I end up saying, "I design machines," or, "I'm kind of like an IT guy, except I don't know how to fix computers."  I can't say I'm an engineer because PEO will come after me so I'm kind of stuck (Hopefully by the end of this year, I can get my license...finally).

Working for a midsize company definitely has its pluses.  My boss is the CFO, which makes me sound like I'm high on the corporate ladder (except I'm not), and I get to interact with the President and Vice-Presidents on a regular basis, which would be rare had I worked for a larger company.  But the best thing really is that my work impacts the company and I feel empowered to make a real difference.

Shaping Your Future
One of the many things that I've learned throughout my short career is that if you want to grow in your career, you have to be proactive about it.  Even if you do good work and work hard, you can't just sit around and expect to get a promotion.  If you don't make it known that you would like to grow, your employer would probably think you're happy where you are, because there are many people out there who have no desire to progress, and you definitely don't want to be grouped in with them.

Sometimes, there is no room for you to progress.  Maybe your boss is the CFO and you're not an accountant!  There could be a thousand other reasons.  I believe you have to search within your company for a gap to fill.  Blaze a new path if one doesn't exist.  Of course, it's more easily said than done.  It takes careful planning and strategizing, and probably a lot of convincing before you are given what you want.  I'm really not one to give career advice, but these are my thoughts...what do you think?

"Ask and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7). It doesn't just apply to your spiritual life.  I think it applies equally well in your career.
© Felix Wong. Powered by Blogger.