Ask an Engineer! Engineers vs. Technologists - the straight story

Jam's picture

Justin asks:
Q: Have you worked with technologists and what do engineers think of technologists and their abilities?

Jim - Cement Industry, Pennsylvania, USA


Sure, I work with technologists.  The term “technologist” is more common in Canada than the States, but the concept is the same.  Somebody has to take the measurements, and repair things that break.  Goodness knows I can’t do it.  At times technicians or technologists can be aggravating because they tend to pay extreme attention to detail and get hung up on questions of fact or precision that might seem not to matter in the “big picture”.  So do the top executives in my company……but I digress.  The scientific method requires both theoreticians and experimentalists, and the engineering method needs both engineers and technologists working together.

Scott - Semiconductor Industry - Massachusetts, USA

Technicians are the people who make a lab actually useful.

 Engineers might be the ones to design things, but the technicians make them work in the real world.  And the good technicians probably know as much about the design as the engineers do.

I'd say in any organization there are two sets of people you want to keep on your good side - the secretaries and the technicians.

Dan - Diesel Engine Manufacturing - Illinois, USA

 Full disclosure: I had to ask what a technologist was before writing this. In my company, the test engines are run by technicians who have very similar credentials to the technologists (without a diploma or training, in some cases), and it's very useful. They maintain our test engines and prototype equipment and do the actual testing, though the engineers are either checking in or are there assisting with the testing. Having someone there who is very intimate with the practical knowledge of a particular engine frees me to focus on designs which may span several platforms. It's certainly a job the engineers could do (and have done, when the union has been on strike), but most engineers I talk to are happy to have them around.

Thomas - Software Consulting – Singapore

Justin you had me feeling pretty inadequate because I had to go look up what a technologist even was before I could answer this question. I have never worked with a technologist and I don’t think I ever will.

Developing software is quite a bit different because we have no actual “production line” for our products. Once the product has been designed by an architect and evaluated by the engineers, we just code it. Every person on the average development team is physically capable of writing the whole piece of software. The only reason we separate roles is to play on strengths. Somebody who can architect a solution is better used designing new and innovative processes instead of grinding out VC++ code. You can think of a developer as a technologist, but a developer usually has the same training and background as the engineer/ computer scientist above them so it is really not a perfect analog.

Dyson - Mechanical Technologist - Yukon Territories

Because I am a Tech I have to say that we are Truly Awesome and are respected by other engineering professionals. The cold reality is that this is not always the case, and like any other profession there is the good, bad, and the ugly for both Techs and Pros. I can't speak with any authority of how tech's are treated in the southern parts of Canada, but up here we are generally treated as knowledgeable professionals and we behave as such. Actually, I'm also curious to what the other panel members have to say...


Johan: Software, Domotics Industry, Netherlands

No, I've never worked with a technologist. In fact, I had to refer to Wikipedia ( before I even had a broad grasp of the concept. So, with no first-hand experience on the subject, I'm left to talk about the concept in general.

 From what I understand though, an engineering technologist is similar to what the software industry calls code monkey. This is a software programmer who has no hand in the software design. There appear to be tons of them in India and other prime outsourcing countries. The idea is that the software architect will design the software on an abstract level, and the programmer(s) will implement the design and deliver a final, working project.

The common pitfall here is that it's vitally important for the programmer(s) to understand not only the 'what' of the design, but also the 'why'. The best way, I feel, to do this is to involve the programmer in the design process. But that would miss the whole point of outsourcing.

Trian - Groundwater Monitoring Industry – BC

 I haven’t actually worked with technologist but I think they fit a specific need and are valuable colleagues.  I think in several cases their responsibilities overlap with engineering responsibilities.  I sometimes think it’s my job to set things up so that a technologist can take over.  There are several design tasks where detailed engineering analysis is not required but a good technical understanding of physical principles and manufacturing is required.  I think technologists are perfect for situations where a technician doesn’t have enough of the design and decision making experience but the level of analysis and responsibility (and liability) does not warrant a professional engineer. 

Angela – Sustainability Industry – Vancouver

 It seems to me like engineers are trained to see the bigger picture, and technologists are trained to see the details. Engineers are also put through more educational rigor because we’re legally liable for what we design. It is extremely difficult to take both the broad view and the detailed view, and so it makes sense to train two different sets of people. Both of us need to work together if our projects are going to succeed.

I don’t work directly with technologists in my line of work, which is unfortunate because all of the ones that have crossed my path have been interesting and capable people.  I’ve often been jealous of the hands-on nature of a technologist’s work! 

Bruno - Polytechnique - Junior Software Engineer - Quebec (OIQ)

I am currently working with technologists a lot because in my field, (I am a junior software engineer). As opposed to many other engineering fields, you are not obligated by law to be an engineer to do the job I am doing. Covering the reasons why would take a while, so I will keep this for another post if necessary.
Most technologists I have worked with have a very deep mastery of their tools (programming languages in my case) where engineers were educated in seeing the big picture. Engineers need technologists and technicians to help them with the overly technical parts of their job. I'd go as far as saying that being a good software engineer does not make you a great programmer. It makes you a great system designer, a good analyst or whichever part of software engineering interests you, but not a great programmer. That's where we need technologists to help us do the job the right way. Engineers and technologists can learn a lot from each other if they are open to it.

Robert - Oil and Gas Industry - Texas, USA

I haven't worked with technologists, at least not in the sense that they would call themselves that, however the people who I work with could be considered either close to or the equivalent of a technologist. That would be supervisors/treaters. What they do, at least where I am, is call/run the frac jobs. This largely entails knowing what equipment can run what, when to tell people to change rates on the various adds that we run, and essentially know what to do given how the well reacts to the treatment (based on the pressure of the well).

I think it's great working with them. They're more knowledgeable in the workings of the job then I am, and if there's an equipment issue or something goes wrong, they've usually been around long enough to know how to fix it, or at the very least work around it. Honestly, they do the same things that we're expected to, the only difference is that we're more knowledgeable in the technical aspects of the job and they're more knowledgeable in the operational side of the job. So in conclusion, if the person is a good supervisor, or at least one that knows what they're doing, then I respect their abilities because chances are, they've been around for longer than I have and will continue to be around doing the job long after I’ve left.

Kimberly - Computer Science Undergraduate - United States

 To be honest, I had no idea what a technologist was until I looked it up on Wikipedia.  I've never worked with a technologist before, so I can't really comment what I think of them and their abilities.  From reading the description, however, I'd say that we engineers need all the help we can get sometimes, so the more the merrier! :)


Ask an Engineer is a monthly feature of the Wasted Talent blog.

Have a question for our engineers? Contact us ! Register now to join the discussion and comment on this post:




AskanEOCTOBER10.pdf108.73 KB


Mr. Pickles's picture
Mr. Pickles

Looking through all the responses, it seems that Technologists seem to go "poof" or get shoe-horned into Technician positions when they graduate. Which is funny because we are educated to about the 3rd year level of typical engineers (minus the arts courses). I could draw the conclusion that the HVAC branch of mechanical is the only place where a Technologist can stand toe to toe with an engineer. For example, the chapter president of ASHRAE in BC is a Technologist, the owner of the design firm where I work holds the highest rank that a Tech can hold: Limited License Engineer, and two of the most skilled and knowledgable technical salesman I know are Technologists.

Come on! There's gotta be Techs in the audience! Stand up and prove that you're out there and do substantial work!

drake7707's picture

Assuming that technologists follow the technical use cases in software development to translate it into code and a working application but aren't involved in the functional analysis and design and engineers doing the higher level design and consulting with clients but little coding then I am probably both (and I think many software engineers in small businesses are).

My colleague usually does the meetings with customer, along with the one in charge of the sales, they work out a functional analysis that is aimed at the client (meaning no technical mumbo jumbo in there). Once approved and signed I get my hands on it and go from rough design work all the way to implementing everything, do the FAT testing, and usually do either the installation myself or write up an install/service sheet.

I think this has significant advantages:

- You see the whole project grow, it keeps me motivated to finish it because the more work I poured into it the more I get attached to it to do it right and the more I feel responsible if something is incorrect or buggy.

- You know what the client expects, a technical document how it has to be implemented is nice but doesn't contain what is expected. It tells you what it has to do (and this can greatly differ from what is to be expected!, a classic (that we probably all have encountered in school is this one:

- It's more diverse, writing code itself following a strict design is not that hard, yet harder than you think, some problems are harder to code by design A than it is by design B. If you're in charge of both designing and coding you can easily make a more flexible design (everyone has his/her own coding style), or change parts in it that were bad judgment (or weren't taken into account). With proper communication with the designer this is not that bad, but it's an extra hurdle that I have encountered too many times before.

There are also some disadvantages:

- It's a LOT of work and a LOT of responsibility. The company essentially puts all of its eggs of that project in your basket, you have to be pretty certain that you can handle all of it. This doesn't mean that there is no communication whatsoever or you can't ask your colleagues to help if you're stuck, but it still is your actions that will either let the project fail or succeed. It's also a lot more work to keep track of everything, make sure everything is as closely as the client expects it to (or as close to the functional analysis). For bigger 6-1y projects it's usually best to have a few meetings to decide on the best design together, to have multiple perspectives on the same problem.

- If you do the project alone you might be locked in a too narrow perspective on the problem, one that might not be the most optimal path to the desired solution. Even if you do the project in a team, if each person is designing its own module (speaking in a DSDM method here) and subsequently coding it, it's pretty hard to keep everyone on the same level. The look and feel of each module will be different without the proper standardization. If the designers worked together early on and wrote a technical analysis that documented all that, the coders would have to follow it and everything would feel more or less the same. It's still possible to have this but it's much much harder if everyone is doing his/her own design than follow a fixed prepared one.

I am pretty much opposed to do only coding and no designing or vice versa. I love making a good design and see it all come together in the end (or making a bad design, realizing that it was a bad design and redesign it on the fly). I like having the diversity of designing class diagrams, sequence diagrams, making an implementation, writing unit testing, add icons and usabilities to give it a polished look, write up documentation, etc etc and I would gladly take the extra work and challenge that it brings than to write code all day long with barely knowing what it's for and how much it matters. It would be a very boring job otherwise.

(Sorry for the size of this comment, I just kind of went in rant mode. Most of it is deduced from personal experience, I'm not entirely certain it's like this somewhere else).

Oradamo's picture

 In my world (UK power networks) I have to say I'm not convinced technologists exist. People with Bachelor Degrees(BEng) generally do the same job as me(MEng) and either do a Msc after a little while or ignore chartership(as is very possible in the UK).


Either way, the extra year of education doesnt mean much if anything after a few years of work experience.

technologistromcanada's picture

I am assuming most of the users on here are from America which does not have a regulated "Technologist" title here in Canada Engineering Technologists are educated for 3 years and after words we go through an intership process write a test and the join a government regulated organization with the title of Certified Engineering Technologist (C.E.T) you could look up the specific details on the OACETT website.

Basically in school (for mechanical eng in canada) technologists cover all the same acedemic coursework that the pros do (thermo dynamics, dynamics, statics, fluid dynamics, machine design, etc. ) are education just does not cover the academics with the same level of depth as the university graduates. Our 3 year course is equivalent to 2 years of university so for example if a graduate like myself were to attend university for mech eng i would start in the 3rd year of the course. If i do not go back to school to get a bachelors degree and keep my CET in 12 years of working in the field I can go through the process of getting a professional engineering license limited to my feild of work ex. plastic injection molding.

As far as Technologists go in the workplace i can only speak for myself I have worked for two companies one was a tier 2 automotive manufacturer and in that environment there were both technologists and engineers and they both had the exact same job description working as process engineers and performed the same functions on a daily basis.

the company i am working for now is a plastic injection molding company and the only engineer on staff is the manager us technologists make all of the mold designs as well as the product designs.

In conclusion I would say that Technologists are being sold short as we often seem to be lumped into the same category as technicians it is a different professional designation as most technologists work in design and not doing any hands on work and after 12 years of work we can upgrade to a professional engineering license just off of our experience.

note: Technologists can work in design and engineering but we do not have the legal authority that a licensed engineer has often companies that have only technologists in their design department will contract a consulting firm to get a p.eng to certify their drawings.

hopefully this clears up the technologist designation a little more thoroughly

Electric306's picture

Are you saying that after 12 years you can get a P.eng based on your C.E.T. and experience? I assume you are not saying that as it is not true..

Beth Burchfield's picture
Beth Burchfield

Engineering and technology may be more similar than we think and complement each other very nicely.

For both majors of study it helps to have interests in
-Using scientific principles and methods to solve real-world problems
-Forming conclusions from lab experiments, data or reports
-Improving processes and systems that are in place
-Conducting testing methods to maintain quality

However, there are differences after graduation. Students who obtain a Bachelor of Science in Engineering begin their careers as entry-level engineers. Meanwhile, students who complete two-year engineering technology programs are called “technicians. I wrote a piece below about this Engineering Technology degree and the difference between it and a normal Engineering degree.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Thanks so much to our Patrons!

Join them on Patreon!