My former professor Eugene Wallingford blogs about an unsuccessful curriculum proposal at my alma mater:

Had we changed the name of our program to Software Development or almost anything else without the word 'engineering' in it, we would probably have succeeded in having our program approved.

This line comes about 85% of the way through the post, but I was thinking the exact same thing the whole time I was reading it.

Our faculty decided that to change the name of our program to something non-standard would defeat the purpose of offering a specialized degree in the discipline;

Not that my opinion counts for much in this kind of thing, but I don’t know about that. I don’t know that I’m convinced that “non-standard” is a such a bad thing in such a dynamic and fast-changing field. Actually, rather than “non-standard,” I would prefer the term “cutting-edge.”

Use of the terms “software development” and “software developer” seems to be very much on the rise these days. I think an increasing number of practitioners are either becoming aware of the objections of traditional engineers to the term “software engineering” or, more likely, are beginning to see where software development, however disciplined, differs from traditional engineering, and are seeing software development as a unique field in itself.

T8 still calls me a “Programmer,” both colloquially and on my work email signature, even while certain of my co-workers have always held the title “Software Engineer.” Personally I think “Software Engineer” holds a certain cachet that I think is often undeserved by many of those it is applied to. I think my company should settle on a term and stick with it to avoid future jealousy and confusion over the semantics; I think Software Developer is a great term, and it seems that Eric Sink does too. I usually prefer to think of myself as one these days.

Calling the major Software Development would also emphasize that UNI’s treatment of the subject is likely to differ in many respects from that given by the engineering college of the objecting university Dr. Wallingford mentions (let me guess, it’s Iowa State). At least I kinda hope it would. So it would overcome the duplication objection.

When I think of “Software Engineering” it calls to my mind specific kinds of software development – embedded-system, military-contract, close-to-the-metal kinds of stuff that should involve a lot of Electrical Engineers. There’s a lot of prestige in that – it’s important and challenging work – but in today’s world it’s far from being the dominant kind of software work being done, in terms of numbers of practitioners it employs. But it also calls to my mind stodgy old waterfall-method point-the-car methodologies that assume programmers can’t think for themselves without a 400-page requirements doc laying out every minute detail before a single line of code is written. (Besides, if you’re in the private sector and can cost-effectively produce such a detailed document, these days you’d be best off sending that document off to India somesuch other country with lots of cheap programmers.) Once upon a time such an approach was necessary because Universities didn’t have Computer Science programs and people on the whole weren’t accustomed to interacting with computers on a daily basis – thus the average Programmer-Drone didn’t have the ability to reason about programs that today’s practitioners do, so all the reasoning about how the program should do what it does had to be in the hands of a few highly experienced “Analysts.” And I don’t believe that to be the case today. But that’s the mental picture I get from “Software Engineering.”

“Software Development,” in my opinion, is the more cutting-edge term and arguably the more appropriate one for what many of us do. I would embrace it.

Charlie Schiz

Charlie Schiz
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. I've been weird all my life. It's my time to shine.


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