Regulating Software Engineering to Protect Public Safety
APEGA supports the innovation and diversification of Alberta’s economy, including the technology and software sectors. Mitigating any risks to public safety must be of primary importance. The term engineer—including software engineer—comes with a licensed and ethical set of responsibilities and accountabilities, and the use of this title has always been protected for a reason.
Engineering is a Regulated Profession for a Reason
APEGA supports the innovation and diversification of Alberta’s economy, including the technology and software sectors. Engineers have always been key partners in such innovation and have helped provide Albertans with their high quality of life while ensuring their safety.
The term engineer comes with a licensed and ethical set of responsibilities and accountabilities. This is the same for other regulated professions, such as the health and legal professions.
“You would not want someone to operate on you in the province if they are not licensed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. By that same token, you do not want someone designing your pacemaker or self-driving car if they are not a licensed engineer. That puts people’s lives at risk—something APEGA takes very seriously”
Jay Nagendran, APEGA registrar and chief executive officer
With the ongoing advancements of technology and with increasing delegation of decision-making to artificial intelligence and software, the risk to public safety continues to be of primary importance, and there continues to be a need for regulation of software engineering and use of the engineering title. Any exception to the use of the title engineer will set a dangerous precedent and put the lives of Albertans at risk.
APEGA remains committed to being a constructive partner in the conversation regarding oversight of the computer engineering profession. We look forward to working with the province and industry to find common ground to protect public safety, grow our economy and ensure professionals who use the term engineer are accountable and regulated.
As the regulator of the engineering and geoscience professions in Alberta for more than 100 years, APEGA protects the health, safety and welfare of Albertans from unprofessional and unethical practice. We are the largest regulator of self-regulated professionals in Western Canada, with nearly 70,000 registrants who safeguard the public welfare and contribute significantly to Alberta’s economic success and quality of life.
Software Engineering is a Discipline
Computer and software engineering exist as distinct disciplines of engineering (along with more than 100 other disciplines). We have many licensed professional members who are software engineers (see some of our featured member profiles below). One reason we cannot allow those who are not licensed to use the same title is because there would be no way for the public to easily distinguish which software engineer was professionally licensed and which wasn't.
Title protection also exists in many other professions in Alberta and Canada—the public can rely on the knowledge that accountants, architects, lawyers, pharmacists, and physicians possess the ethical, professional, and technical competencies to perform their work skillfully and safely. Protected titles signify those who use them meet and are held accountable for their work through practice standards, legislation, and regulation. They signify a commitment to minimize the potential for harm to life, health, the environment, property, and the economy.
By regulating the restricted use of titles and designations, as is our obligation under the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act, APEGA maintains the public’s trust in the engineering profession to keep our communities safe.
Engineers Canada paper on professional practice in software engineering
Growing public concerns with automated technology, the increased frequency of malicious cybersecurity events, and the rapid pace with which software is becoming integrated into all aspects of daily life are drawing increased attention to requirements to hire engineers to protect the public in these areas. This paper defines key elements of the practice of software engineering and explains the legal requirement, in most Canadian jurisdictions, for this work to be undertaken by engineers. The intended outcome of this paper is to help regulators, practitioners, and the public to be better able to differentiate software engineering from other non-engineering software work.
Regulation and the Tech Evolution
The use of the title software engineer versus software developer may to some be a minor inflection point when the singular focus is employee attraction and retention, but the decision impacts something larger: public safety throughout the navigation of rapid technological evolution. This decision will ensure accountability, rigour, and integrity in programs and systems created or managed by software engineers, resulting in processes held to a standard of excellence and safe outputs. The adverse effects of unregulated software engineering can range from minor to devastating, and it is regulators who are responsible for preventing both.
Public trust is built through a history of successful regulation, as is confidence in the programs and systems working in the background of our daily lives. Through APEGA’s regulation of the title of software engineer, the responsibility for building our province in a digital sense is in the capable hands of those you’ve trusted to physically build Alberta for the last 100 years—those held accountable through self-regulation enforceable through the Government of Alberta’s Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act.
These technological strides forward and their effects on society must be considered before they are created, which is the mandate of a professional engineer. The regulation of this evolution is a necessary responsibility: that of Canadian engineering regulators, such as APEGA. Regulating the title software engineer benefits us all—our decision today ensures the continued protection of public safety tomorrow.
Applying to APEGA as a software engineer
Licensure with APEGA as a software engineer follows the same process all applicants undertake. Because computer and software engineering is a discipline of engineering, you must have the required educational background and work experience, just as any other engineering applicant, to become licensed.
The application process is summarized in the following process chart.
Software engineering is a nationally and internationally recognized discipline of engineering. There are at least 14 accredited software engineering programs at Canadian universities, including one at the University of Calgary.
The software engineering field is concerned with the application of engineering processes to the creation, maintenance, and design of software. Two key aspects indicate whether an activity is considered to be software engineering:
- It concerns the public interest; and
- It requires the application of engineering principles in its development.
APEGA receives its direction on how to regulate the practices of engineering and geoscience in the province through the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act. Through the Act, APEGA is also legally required to regulate the restricted use of titles and designations.
Reserving the “software engineer” title for those who perform the work and meet the requirements to use the designation is necessary to maintain the public’s trust in the engineering profession.
Regulators across Canada are unified in working towards removing reserved title infractions from the technology industry and have signed a joint letter signifying our intention to do so. Engineers Canada released the signed statement in August this year. The Government of Alberta also has a copy of this statement.
There is a national working group looking at this specific issue: the Task Force on Software Engineering. Chaired by a member of the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board, the task force includes representatives from provincial regulators and other domain experts. The group can also consult engineers practising in different fields to provide expertise on the areas of practice contained in the paper.
The group is currently providing feedback on the Engineers Canada paper on professional practice in software engineering. The document addresses the nature of engineering practice in software engineering, in comparison with common software development. Section 3.2 of the document speaks to engineering principles and the software development process.
You can learn more about the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board, along with its subcommittees and task forces, on the Engineers Canada website.
APEGA receives its direction on how to regulate the practices of engineering and geoscience in the province through the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act. Through the Act, APEGA is also legally required to ensure those using restricted titles or designations are licensed to do so.
There is, however, an exception: Section 2(4)(f) of the Act states that members of the Canadian Forces can engage in the practice of engineering while actually employed on duty with the Forces. This exemption is what makes the titles of “combat engineer” and “military engineer” possible.
There are three key differences to consider when comparing power engineering and software engineering.
First, software engineering already exists as a distinct discipline of engineering. We do have licensed professional members who are software engineers. One reason we cannot allow those who are not licensed to use the same title is because there would be no way for the public to easily distinguish which software engineer was professionally licensed and which wasn’t.
Second, power engineers in Alberta are certified through the Alberta Boiler Safety Association. They must meet established safety codes and standards relating to their work, whereas there is no comparable regulation of safety codes and standards for developing software.
Last, power engineers must meet established testing and qualification requirements to be certified, and there is no indication this type of stringent certification process will be established for individuals and companies that want to use the title “software engineer.”
For these reasons, power engineering should not be used as a template to create an exemption for software engineering.
Frequently Asked Questions about Software Engineering in Alberta
Software Engineering is Regulated Across Canada
Engineering regulators reiterate licensure requirements for those using “software engineer” and other IT titles
Engineers Canada and the 12 engineering regulators across Canada have co-signed a statement reiterating that the use of titles such as “software engineer”, “computer engineer”, and similar titles that prefix “engineer” within IT-related disciplines and practices are restricted to those who are licensed as an engineer.
Government of Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA)
Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are poised to have a significant impact on the lives of Canadians and the operations of Canadian businesses. In June 2022, the Government of Canada tabled the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) as part of Bill C-27, the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2022. The AIDA represents an important milestone in implementing the Digital Charter and ensuring that Canadians can trust the digital technologies that they use every day. The design, development, and use of AI systems must be safe, and must respect the values of Canadians.
PEO Actively Protects Title Rights
PEO has long recognized that software engineering lies within the definition of engineering under the Professional Engineers Act (PEA), where, since 1999, the field has been recognized as a distinct engineering discipline.
Regulation of Software Engineering in B.C.
In British Columbia, software engineering is a discipline of professional engineering and is regulated by Engineers and Geoscientists BC under the Professional Governance Act. Computer and software engineering have been designated as disciplines of professional engineering since 1988 and 1999, and fall within the definition of professional engineering in the Professional Governance Act. They work across all industries, including aerospace, manufacturing, mining, transportation, telecommunication, finance, government, and education.
Québec court rules against Microsoft
Microsoft Canada has contravened a provincial professional code by using the word “engineer” in its international software certification program, a Québec court has ruled.
The decision by Judge Claude Millette of the Court of Québec marks the first time in Microsoft’s history it has been penalized for using the term. It also provides a historic, if largely symbolic, victory for professional engineers who have been trying to curtail the word’s use in the context of software development.
Developing Software for Safety Critical Engineering Applications
Software may pose a risk to the public interest, either directly or indirectly. The development of certain categories of software is considered to fall within the scope of professional engineering in Ontario when the software is used in a manner that affects the public interest. Since the development of safety critical software falls within the practice of professional engineering, only engineers or those supervised by an engineer can develop safety critical software.
News Coverage on Regulating Software Engineers in Alberta
Varcoe: Trouble over titles — tech sector asks premier to weigh in on spat over software engineersRead the article on the Calgary Herald
Is a ‘software engineer’ an engineer? Alberta regulator says no, riling the province’s tech sectorRead the article on the Globe and Mail
Tech leaders seek easing of rules around ‘software engineer’ designation
What People are Saying on Social Media
“Why cant coders form a designation that makes sense, they actually speaks to THEIR unique skill set. That actually is transferrable across industries. Why must they devalue a professional designation that actually has regulated meaning because... they want to? They want it all. The title and no school. The money but no responsibility. The grants and no deliverables.
“Coders need a proper designation system. That actually allows someone to understand what their skills are. Coders know how one kind of machine works. A computer. A machine that actual computer engineers built. Computer Engineers who know how to architect mother boards that accelerate the compute speed by reducing the pathways between the RAM and the processor. Software engineers will know how machine language moves between the hardware and software. They understand the reason why C and C++ are still the OG languages. How Python lacks the sophistication of a mind that knows how to allocate memory while computing their algorithms.”
APEGA Supports and Champions Licensed Software Engineers
APEGA has a long history of regulating and supporting software engineers. Read some of the recent features we've published on some outstanding APEGA members working in the software field.
Algorithm for Success
Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour, P.Eng., thinks those learning software engineering should practise using real-life scenarios from their first year of study. He’s providing this opportunity for students through bonafide industry experiences. By creating partnered projects and mutual support in his lab, he hopes to marry the interests of the exploding tech industry in Alberta and the skills of his students.
Engineers Make it Possible: Dr. Zainab Syed, P.Eng.
If you have relied on your vehicle’s built-in navigation system to keep from getting lost, you may want to thank Zainab Syed. She helped design the groundbreaking navigation software now found in thousands of new automobiles hitting the road in Canada and around the globe. Using sensors, the software tracks vehicles in places where satellite signals are blocked, like underground parking garages or deep inside mountain tunnels.
Engineer Programs World’s First Commercial Electric Airplane to Take Flight
In celebration of International Civil Aviation Day, APEGA is sharing the story of how one of our professional engineers, Siyu Leng, P.Eng., helped the first commercial electric airplane take flight.
Automating the Land
Dr. Rafiq Ahmad, P.Eng., sees the best in systems. He leverages all the useful parts, sloughs off the useless, generates maximum efficiency. "Farming is one of the least automated industries," he explains. "That's where I see a lot of opportunity." For him, this opportunity comes through creating an aquaponics system for the future. He is the founder and director of the world's first aquaponics learning factory.
The Power of a Name
His mother, one of his greatest influences and the catalyst for his move to Calgary from Lagos, Nigeria, always told him, "Make sure you connect with others, because you can't do things alone." Habib Adesola Jinadu, E.I.T., has taken this to heart. "It's a personal goal of mine to try and network and meet different engineers. Attending APEGA's Emerging Professionals Summit was one way I met this goal."
Energy Engineer Calculates a Cooler Tomorrow
When Dr. Amit Kumar, P.Eng., began his career as an energy engineer in the 1990s, few people were talking about climate change. That has changed recently in the past few years, and now it seems climate change is top of mind for many.
Refining Recycling: A Practical Dream
"Only nine per cent of Canadian plastic is currently recycled, and recycling processes are not very sustainable," Dr. Rafiq Ahmad, P.Eng., explains. "We want to create new, cheaper processes and a bigger impact by combining different technologies. We can do this because we are one of the labs in the world pioneering artificial intelligence and digitization."
If: Ball, Then: Catch
All Dot wants for her eighth birthday is a real, live puppy to cuddle. Instead, she gets a robot dog named Sparky. The duo's adventures are highlighted in this children's book that teaches kids about friendship, perseverance, computer programming, and robotics.
A Software Engineer and a Nurse Strike the Match of Innovation
Dr. Moshirpour, P.Eng., and Dr. Duffett-Leger, a registered nurse, use their commonalities to produce software to benefit patients, health-care providers, and students. Their latest endeavour, Ignitingale, teams up engineering and nursing students to innovate software solutions for real.