Introduction to Software Engineering/Software Engineer

Software Engineer


Software engineering is done by the software engineer, an engineer who applies the principles of software engineering to the design and development, testing, and evaluation of software and systems that make computers or anything containing software work. There has been some controversy over the term engineer[1], since it implies a certain level of academic training, professional discipline, adherence to formal processes, and especially legal liability that often are not applied in cases of software development. In 2004, the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 760,840 software engineers holding jobs in the U.S.; in the same period there were some 1.4 million practitioners employed in the U.S. in all other engineering disciplines combined.[2]



Prior to the mid-1990s, software practitioners called themselves programmers or developers, regardless of their actual jobs. Many people prefer to call themselves software developer and programmer, because most widely agree what these terms mean, while software engineer is still being debated. A prominent computing scientist, E. W. Dijkstra, wrote in a paper that the coining of the term software engineer was not a useful term since it was an inappropriate analogy, "The existence of the mere term has been the base of a number of extremely shallow --and false-- analogies, which just confuse the issue...Computers are such exceptional gadgets that there is good reason to assume that most analogies with other disciplines are too shallow to be of any positive value, are even so shallow that they are only confusing."[3]

The term programmer has often been used to refer to those without the tools, skills, education, or ethics to write good quality software. In response, many practitioners called themselves software engineers to escape the stigma attached to the word programmer.

The label software engineer is used very liberally in the corporate world. Very few of the practicing software engineers actually hold Engineering degrees from accredited universities. In fact, according to the Association for Computing Machinery, "most people who now function in the U.S. as serious software engineers have degrees in computer science, not in software engineering". [4]



About half of all practitioners today have computer science degrees. A small, but growing, number of practitioners have software engineering degrees. In 1987 Imperial College London introduced the first three-year software engineering Bachelor's degree in the UK and the world. Since then, software engineering undergraduate degrees have been established at many universities. A standard international curriculum for undergraduate software engineering degrees was recently defined by the ACM[5]. As of 2004, in the U.S., about 50 universities offer software engineering degrees, which teach both computer science and engineering principles and practices. ETS University and UQAM were mandated by IEEE to develop the SoftWare Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) [6], which has become an ISO standard describing the body of knowledge covered by a software engineer.

In business, some software engineering practitioners have Management Information Systems (MIS) degrees. In embedded systems, some have electrical engineering or computer engineering degrees, because embedded software often requires a detailed understanding of hardware. In medical software, practitioners may have medical informatics, general medical, or biology degrees. Some practitioners have mathematics, science, engineering, or technology degrees. Some have philosophy (logic in particular) or other non-technical degrees, and others have no degrees.



Most software engineers work as employees or contractors. They work with businesses, government agencies (civilian or military), and non-profit organizations. Some software engineers work for themselves as freelancers. Some organizations have specialists to perform each of the tasks in the software development process. Other organizations required software engineers to do many or all of them. In large projects, people may specialize in only one role. In small projects, people may fill several or all roles at the same time.

There is considerable debate over the future employment prospects for Software Engineers and other Information Technology (IT) Professionals. For example, an online futures market called the Future of IT Jobs in America[7] attempts to answer whether there will be more IT jobs, including software engineers, in 2012 than there were in 2002.

Some students in the developed world may have avoided degrees related to software engineering because of the fear of offshore outsourcing and of being displaced by foreign workers.[8] Although government statistics do not currently show a threat to software engineering itself; a related career, computer programming, does appear to have been affected.[9][10] Some career counselors suggest a student to also focus on "people skills" and business skills rather than purely technical skills, because such "soft skills" are allegedly more difficult to offshore.[11] It is the quasi-management aspects of software engineering that appear to be what has kept it from being impacted by globalization.[12]


  1. Sayo, Mylene. "[ What's in a Name? Tech Sector battles Engineers on "software engineering"]". Retrieved 2008-07-24. {{cite web}}: External link in |title= (help)
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, USDL 05-2145: Occupational Employment and Wages, November 2004
  3. E.W.Dijkstra Archive: The pragmatic engineer versus the scientific designer
  4. ACM, Computing - Degrees & Careers, Software Engineering
  5. Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Software Engineering
  6. Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge
  7. Future of IT Jobs in America
  8. As outsourcing gathers steam, computer science interest wanes
  9. Computer Programmers
  10. Software developer growth slows in North America | InfoWorld | News | 2007-03-13 | By Robert Mullins, IDG News Service
  11. Hot Skills, Cold Skills
  12. Dual Roles: The Changing Face of IT