Alberta Premier Danielle Smith appears to have addressed previous concerns that a provincial professional standards body reached beyond its authority when it tried to regulate the title of software engineer.
In her mandate letter to the provincial Minister of Technology and Innovation on July 10, Smith wrote that she would task the minister, Nate Glubish, with “working with the Minister of Advanced Education, who is the lead, to ensure appropriate governance of software engineers that will not hamper the efforts of tech companies to attract these needed-professionals from competing jurisdictions.”
“CCI has been sounding the alarm on the need to eliminate this job-killing red tape in the province.”
— Benjamin Bergen
In October 2022, some 30-plus signatories from a number of Alberta’s leading technology companies issued an open letter to the premier, protesting the “aggressive position” the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) had taken over the title of software engineer.
APEGA argued it has the legal right and requirement to “restrict the practices of engineering and geoscience, along with the related titles and designations, to licensed individuals and companies.”
The association restricts the use of the word engineer combined with any name, title, description, letter, symbol, or abbreviation that implies being licensed with APEGA. That would include the title software engineer.
APEGA maintains that as part of its obligation to protect the public, it has the legal right and requirement to restrict the practices of engineering and geoscience, along with the related titles and designations, to licensed individuals and companies.
“Only professional members and companies (permit holders) licensed by APEGA have the right to independently practise engineering or geoscience in Alberta,” the legislative body writes on its website.
APEGA regulates the professions by ensuring that anyone it licenses meets certain technical, ethical, and professional standards.
APEGA has actively targeted companies in Alberta with legal action to restrict the use of “globally competitive job titles and descriptions.”
“The Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) is pleased to see that Premier Smith has tasked Minister Glubish and Minister Sawhney with removing onerous restrictions on the use of the term ‘software engineer’ by APEGA, “said CCI president Benjamin Bergen.
“CCI has been sounding the alarm on the need to eliminate this job-killing red tape in the province and restore Alberta’s competitive advantage in the innovation economy,” Bergen said.
Bergen added that in the coming months the CCI will seek more information on how the provincial government intends to remedy the issue from a policy perspective. “Nothing short of explicitly permitting Alberta tech companies to use the term “software engineer” (as well as related terms) freely will do,” Bergen said.
Dianne Johnstone, senior advisor and director, legislation and government relations for APEGA told BetaKit the disagreement over the use of the title could be as simple as its interpretation. She suggested that it could come down to nuances between what is a software engineer versus a software developer in Canada.
That said, she noted APEGA has been working with the government and the ministry to find a solution to ensuring the startups remain competitive.
“We are wanting to support technology innovation, jobs and economic growth in Alberta, and we want to ensure that we continue and are committed to collaborating with the government to finding a solution to ensuring these businesses remain competitive,” she said.
Johnstone said at this point APEGA will have to wait and see how the letter is interpreted by the minister.
“What else can we do until we are contacted by the government? We are a creature of the government. We are created by the government, and we will be committed to working together with them,” Johnstone said.
Benevity, Jobber, Neo Financial, and Samdesk are a few of the companies that had signed the original letter, along with organizations such as Platform Calgary and the venture studio Thin Air Labs. The Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) coordinated the original letter.
While the startups acknowledged APEGA’s role in regulating professional certifications and designations in the interest of public safety, the firms dispute that the title of software engineer is in need of regulation. They called software engineer a “globally accepted standard job title” for people who build software.
In general, Smith’s mandate letter tasked Glubish with delivering on the party’s platform commitment to attract more venture capital to the province by investing an additional $100-million into the Alberta Enterprise Corporation.
As well, the minister was given the broad mandate of leading government implementation of the Alberta Technology and Innovation Strategy to ensure Alberta is the destination of choice for innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors. To that end, the minister is to encourage the commercialization of new technologies in Alberta, with the goal of creating more technology jobs, attracting more technology investment, and diversifying Alberta’s economy.