Software Engineers Vs. Programmers

In the US, there is no universally-recognized, formal certification process required to be a programmer. Some programmers are graduates of CIS (Computer and Information Science) programs, some are engineers and many are neither.Novell and Microsoft have tried to create proprietary certification with their CNE (Certified Network Engineer) and MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer) training.

Many states have made using such titles illegal because they mislead the public on who is really an engineer.  Graduates of CNE & MCSE training are not required to have an ABET-accredited engineering degree or a PE (Professional Engineer) license so they cannot be called engineers.

This effort is in the public interest because software impacts public safety. By way of information, Ohio has rendered the MCSE and CNE titles unusable unless you are an actual engineer. Nevada also has strict engineer title laws.

The “science” of computer science has a long way to go. Few truly useful software development paradigms exist and the graduates are not adequately trained in their use or are even aware of their existence.

The professors themselves are ignorant of current software development practices and have little to offer their students in the way of helpful suggestions.

Having been a Computer Engineering professor at a large university, I can personally attest to the appalling lack of understanding of software engineering issues on the part of a few of my former colleagues.  Scary, really.

Some organizations, such as Carnegie-Mellon’s SEI (Software Engineering Institute) are combating this widespread ignorance. Local SPIN groups (Software Process Improvement Network), an outgrowth of CMU’s SEI, are also assisting in this effort.

However, as long as time-to-market issues dominate software development (rather than safety or correctness), there will be little incentive to change.

Software engineers, on the other hand, have a lot more science and technology background than do programmers or computer science majors. Because they are degreed engineers, they have the ABET-approved engineering core which includes physics, chemistry, math, thermodynamics, material science, engineering design, etc. Software engineers, at the graduate level, also learn project management and other business aspects of the software design and production process.

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Mike Hanes

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