Software Engineering

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Software engineering (sometimes abbreviated to SE) is a profession dedicated to designing, implementing, and modifying software so that it is of higher quality, more affordable, maintainable, and faster to build. The term software engineering first appeared in the 1968 NATO Software Engineering Conference, and was meant to provoke thought regarding the perceived “software crisis” at the time. Since the field is still relatively young compared to its sister fields of engineering, there is still much debate around what software engineering actually is, and if it conforms to the classical definition of engineering. Some people argue that development of computer software is more art than science, and that attempting to impose engineering disciplines over a type of art is an exercise in futility because what represents good practice in the creation of software is not even defined. Others, such as Steve McConnell, argue that engineering’s blend of art and science to achieve practical ends provides a useful model for software development. The IEEE Computer Society‘s Software Engineering Body of Knowledge defines “software engineering” as the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation, and maintenance of software, and the study of these approaches; that is, the application of engineering to software.

Software development, a much used and more generic term, does not necessarily subsume the engineering paradigm. Although it is questionable what impact it has had on actual software development over the last more than 40 years, the field’s future looks bright according to Money Magazine and Salary.com, who rated “software engineering” as the best job in the United States in 2006. The latest department of labor statistics show that domestic computer programming jobs are decreasing at the rate of 3 percent a year and are being permanently offshored. They project that the 3 percent decrease in computer programming jobs will continue for the next decade, and the Software Engineering positions will increase since they will be needed in the short term for the offshoring of domestic software programming jobs. (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos303.htm).

History

When the first modern digital computers appeared in the early 1940s, the instructions to make them operate were wired into the machine. Practitioners quickly realized that this design was not flexible and came up with the “stored program architecture” or von Neumann architecture. Thus the first division between “hardware” and “software” began with abstraction being used to deal with the complexity of computing.

Programming languages started to appear in the 1950s and this was also another major step in abstraction. Major languages such as Fortran, ALGOL, and COBOL were released in the late 1950s to deal with scientific, algorithmic, and business problems respectively. E.W. Dijkstra wrote his seminal paper, “Go To Statement Considered Harmful”, in 1968 and David Parnas introduced the key concept of modularity and information hiding in 1972 to help programmers deal with the ever increasing complexity of software systems. A software system for managing the hardware called an operating system was also introduced, most notably by Unix in 1969. In 1967, the Simula language introduced the object-oriented programming paradigm.

These advances in software were met with more advances in computer hardware. In the mid 1970s, the microcomputer was introduced, making it economical for hobbyists to obtain a computer and write software for it. This in turn led to the now famous Personal Computer (PC) and Microsoft Windows. The Software Development Life Cycle or SDLC was also starting to appear as a consensus for centralized construction of software in the mid 1980s. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the introduction of several new Simula-inspired object-oriented programming languages, including Smalltalk, Objective-C, and C++.

Open-source software started to appear in the early 90s in the form of Linux and other software introducing the “bazaar” or decentralized style of constructing software. Then the World Wide Web and the popularization of the Internet hit in the mid 90s, changing the engineering of software once again. Distributed systems gained sway as a way to design systems, and the Java programming language was introduced with its own virtual machine as another step in abstraction. Programmers collaborated and wrote the Agile Manifesto, which favored more lightweight processes to create cheaper and more timely software.

The current definition of software engineering is still being debated by practitioners today as they struggle to come up with ways to produce software that is “cheaper, better, faster”.

Profession

Legal requirements for the licensing or certification of professional software engineers vary around the world. In the UK, the British Computer Society licenses software engineers and members of the society can also become Chartered Engineers (CEng), while in some areas of Canada, such as Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, software engineers can hold the Professional Engineer (P.Eng)designation and/or the Information Systems Professional (I.S.P.) designation; however, there is no legal requirement to have these qualifications.

The IEEE Computer Society and the ACM, the two main professional organizations of software engineering, publish guides to the profession of software engineering. The IEEE’s Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge – 2004 Version, or SWEBOK, defines the field and describes the knowledge the IEEE expects a practicing software engineer to have. The IEEE also promulgates a “Software Engineering Code of Ethics”.

Employment

In 2004, the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 760,840 software engineers holding jobs in the U.S.; in the same time period there were some 1.4 million practitioners employed in the U.S. in all other engineering disciplines combined. Due to its relative newness as a field of study, formal education in software engineering is often taught as part of a computer science curriculum, and as a result most software engineers hold computer science degrees.

Most software engineers work as employees or contractors. Software engineers 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 require 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. Specializations include: in industry (analysts, architects, developers, testers, technical support, managers) and in academia (educators, researchers).

There is considerable debate over the future employment prospects for software engineers and other IT professionals. For example, an online futures market called the “ITJOBS Future of IT Jobs in America” attempts to answer whether there will be more IT jobs, including software engineers, in 2012 than there were in 2002.

Certification

Professional certification of software engineers is a contentious issue, with some professional organizations supporting it, and others claiming that it is inappropriate given the current level of maturity in the profession. Some see it as a tool to improve professional practice; “The only purpose of licensing software engineers is to protect the public.”

The ACM had a professional certification program in the early 1980s,[citation needed] which was discontinued due to lack of interest. The ACM examined the possibility of professional certification of software engineers in the late 1990s, but eventually decided that such certification was inappropriate for the professional industrial practice of software engineering. As of 2006, the IEEE had certified over 575 software professionals as a Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP). In 2008 they added an entry-level certification known as the Certified Software Development Associate (CSDA). In the U.K. the British Computer Society has developed a legally recognized professional certification called Chartered IT Professional (CITP), available to fully qualified Members (MBCS). In Canada the Canadian Information Processing Society has developed a legally recognized professional certification called Information Systems Professional (ISP).

In Israel a person with an appropriate engineering degree has the right to be listed in Israel’s Registry of Engineers and Architects, and the engineering law says that a person calling himself an engineer without the proper license / registration could be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail.

The Software Engineering Institute offers certification on specific topic such as Security, Process improvement and Software architecture.

Most certification programs in the IT industry are oriented toward specific technologies, and are managed by the vendors of these technologies. These certification programs are tailored to the institutions that would employ people who use these technologies.

Impact of globalization

Many students in the developed world have avoided degrees related to software engineering because of the fear of offshore outsourcing (importing software products or services from other countries) and of being displaced by foreign visa workers. Although statistics do not currently show a threat to software engineering itself; a related career, computer programming does appear to have been affected. Often one is expected to start out as a computer programmer before being promoted to software engineer. Thus, the career path to software engineering may be rough, especially during recessions.

Some career counselors suggest a student also focus on “people skills” and business skills rather than purely technical skills because such “soft skills” are allegedly more difficult to offshore. It is the quasi-management aspects of software engineering that appear to be what has kept it from being impacted by globalization.

Education

A knowledge of programming is the main pre-requisite to becoming a software engineer, but it is not sufficient. Most academics agree that Software Engineering is an integral part of Computer Science. Many software engineers have degrees in Computer Science due to the lack of software engineering programs in higher education. However, this has started to change with the introduction of new software engineering degrees, especially in post-graduate education. A standard international curriculum for undergraduate software engineering degrees was defined by the CCSE.

Steve McConnell opines that because most universities teach computer science rather than software engineering, there is a shortage of true software engineers. In 2004 the IEEE Computer Society produced the SWEBOK, which has been published as ISO/IEC Technical Report 19759:2004, describing the body of knowledge covered by a software engineer [citation needed].

The European Commission within the Erasmus Mundus Programme offers a European master degree called European Master on Software Engineering for students from Europe and also outside Europe. This is a joint program (double degree) involving four universities in Europe.

Sub-disciplines

Software engineering can be divided into ten subdisciplines. They are:

Extracted from Wikipedia.

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