SOFTWARE ENGINEERING, PART 2

In this multi-part series, I look at software engineering as a separate discipline from Computer Science. For the software professional’s daily practice, I believe SE is a better degree, and I explain why. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in SE as opposed to CS. Earlier posts are found at:
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
| Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

Software bugs cost millions of dollars to the public each year.
Software bugs cost millions of dollars to the public each year.

You might wonder what a boiler explosion in Texas in 1937 has to do with software engineering today. The simple answer is software has dramatic, far-reaching control of our modern lives and if you think that simple building engineering of the ’30s can be catastrophic, consider the software industry.

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Reviewing the history and cost of software bugs really makes you wonder how software continues to go unregulated as an industry, and how software professionals in the US still do not have professional licensing requirements like other countries. Software bugs cost the economy billions.

A software glitch is in the headlines once again today.

Flights disrupted after computer failure at UK control centre (BBC News)

Swanwick controls the 200,000 square miles of airspace above England and Wales, cost £623m to build, and employs about 1,300 controllers.

But the facility, which handles 5,000 flights every 24 hours, has had a troubled history.

It opened in 2002, six years after its planned commissioning date – a delay which Nats said was due to problems with the software used to power its systems.

Almost a year after it opened, a senior air traffic controller raised concerns with the BBC about health and safety standards and complications with radio communications – which he said cut out erratically.

Technical problems and computer faults hit flights in 2008 and again last summer. And, in December 2013, problems with the internal telephone system then caused further delays.

Without greater promotion of software engineering as a true engineering discipline, and without licensing and regulation available for those software professionals involved in areas of high impact to the public welfare, this state of affairs will continue.

As a matter of professional pride, all of us in the software industry should consider getting a Master of Software Engineering degree. But beyond pride we simply owe it to the public to have a robust profession just like other public good disciplines require. By public good disciplines I mean those like law, medicine, and engineering. Why should software as a profession remain in an infantile state?

This is the most compelling line of argument for me, and the key reason I decided to pursue my MSE at Seattle University. There are a lot of simpler reasons, though, and I’ll cover those in future posts. They include reasons like the following:

  1. more interesting course material than a CS degree
  2. more practical and useful in daily life than a CS degree
  3. more benefits to the industry to have professionals with software engineering degrees
  4. exposure to state-of-the-art industry disciplines and practices, moving beyond buzzwords like cloud and agile

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