Arm Ukraine, zap Putin

Stolen Votes logo logo

No Cookies

Flag UK DE





No Tracking




What is a Computer Systems Engineer ?
What is a Software Engineer ?

Is the title "Software Engineer" a misnomer ? Is it still an Engineer ?

by Julian H. Stacey

(A computer systems engineer, programmer & Unix systems administrator)

This draft page was written April 2004, & is not polished

What Is An Engineer ? (Who'se not,, but claims to be !)

  • Too many call themselves engineers, who are not ! Before deciding what sub species of engineer a software Engineer might be, first consider what an Engineer is, & is not. The word Engineer certainly gets claimed & applied too often !
  • An engineer is Not the man who comes to install or fix your phone, washing machine, TV etc, they're technicians. The person who designed it's an engineer though, & if not, lord help your !
  • Not everyone who deals with engines & hardware etc is an engineer, most are technicians etc, but it's appropriate to query the use of the title Engineer for one who is not also competent with engines &/or hardware etc.
  • Dismiss titles such as "Sanitary Engineer" they're probably mostly plumbers, or sewer workers etc, who do an essential job, some not without danger, & deserve thanks, but aren't engineers, , (though of course there will be a few civil engineers planning city sewer systems, though they probably do'nt call themselves "Sanitary Engineers" ).
  • As to self styled "social engineers" one used to hear of, God knows who or what they are, certainly no sort of engineer, just complete fakes.
  • An engineer is someone who deals with engines & hardware, & technical, numerate scientificly based technologies, Not hand waving "human relationships" & other sociologist ephemera.

What's a Computer Systems Engineer ?

Someone who deals with (designs, configures etc) the software, the electronics, & control of the mechanical real world hardware beyond. At component, sub systems & inter system level. In real time, to very high reliability standards. It's a matter of technology and temperament. The world doesn't need & can't afford too many multi skilled systems engineers, being a systems engineer is slow careful painstaking work, allowing for any event[s] at any time[s] in any order. The world needs & can afford a lot more programmers though: A payroll program can be re-run if necessary, but in the end it's `Only' money if it goes wrong . But you can't call the water back when a reservoir has opened it's automatic gates & flooded a valley. One needs systems engineers, not just programmers, for missiles, power plants, hospital life support systems etc. You can't call back a red hot steel sheet in a mill, in it's high speed computer controlled run over or between compression rollers. Get those systems wrong, & you won't just lose money, but you'll kill people too !

What's a Software Engineer ? - Good Question !

  • Is "Software Engineer" a misnomer ? a non-sequitur ? Is it tortologous ? Can one just do software & still really be an Engineer ? It's a point debated periodically.
  • There are some self styled software engineers, that are not real engineers. Think: It's a pretty strange title at base ! No hardware & they're still an engineer ? Really ? Well they might be - or not !
  • Some self styled software engineers are really programmers with no particular aptitude for painstaking engineering design for machines, reliability, real time etc. Some seem to adopt the name to imply "Senior programmer" which is a different thing entirely !
  • Most, though not all programmers do things like pay roll programs. Some programmers do more complex things, &/or can program very fast, using lots of support tools, but that does Not make them engineers, but fast skilled programmers.
  • A UK Viewpoint:
    The BCS (British Computer Society) has long been one of the chartered (*) engineering institutions, ((*) Chartered means holding a royal charter, & punishable under British law if you claim to be a chartered engineer & are not).) BCS wanted to be given some sort of charter way back, so were tossed in with the engineering institutions, since then IERE (Institution of Electronic & Radio Engineers) has been swallowed by IEE IET (ex Institution of Electrical Engineers), & IEE has toyed with being swallowed by USA's IEEE (let's not kid ourselves that would be a merger of equals!).
  • A German Viewpoint:
    In Germany, a British citizen might see some merit in joining any of ( BCS, IEE, IEEE ) or even the German DVI.
  • Fees: They all welcome application &/or annual membership fees from Software people who they consider qualify to join them. Registered charities or tax exempt or whatever they may be, lets face it they are businesses really: Large staffs & other overheads to be paid from fees members pay them. Fess paid to promote engineering standards in society, to give members professional standing, & supply engineering info (as if we didn't have enough software standards & info etc instantly available on the Internet free ;-) (OK some is sponsored by eg IEEE etc, indeed).

Does Being Enrolled As A Member Prove One Is An Engineer ?

No ! Not quite ! It proves they made payment once, & have continued to annually since, on the basis one once appeared to be an Engineer. Most probably the institution was right, but maybe the paying member has grown rusty since, but keeps paying. No check is normally done after. (How many bad drivers are on the roads today that once satisfied an examiner ? It takes constant application to keep up to date with technology, not always provided by a job, & time is not always dedicated outside the job.) I've met a few chartered engineers hardly worthy of the title, quite a few mpressive non chartered engineers, & many chartered engineers who seemed much the same as many another non chartered engineer, & of course some impressive chartered engineers. Being chartered doesn't necessarily signify that much, especially over time. The newly chartered one might hope to be hot though. Who am I to judge ? Judge for yourself: I've a BSc Hons 2.2 in Computers & Cybernetics, & 2.5+ decades of engineering experience, I've never applied for accreditation, (I know I'm an Engineer, & don't need to pay to hear what I already know smiley face icon )

Does A Resume Show If One Is An Engineer ?

Yes, it certainly should. Have a look at mine if you want. I'm a freelance (& appreciate job offers, as I don't normally use agencies, it's not the commission, if moderate, but I prefer to relate direct to customer requirements, not via an intermediary).

Other non CV Indicators Of An Engineer's Temprament

A engineer's job spec. certainly does not include being prepared to design, build, repair & convert all the the things described &/or pictured Here, but it's perhaps a sort of litmus test: A real Engineer would be competent to do many or all, even if he considered it not a cost effective use of his time. (BTW remember for a freelance developer there's little differentiation between leisure & professional time, it's all just common time available that could be rented out for development projects, or consumed at leisure ).

Some `Leisure' Activities Of Engineers.

A Systems Engineer is proficient in programming, electronics, & the interface, but a real engineer should also be capable & happy to deal with real practical engines, hardware, & systems etc. My systems planning colleagues at British Telecom used to do such leisure activitities as fit house radiator systems at weekends, & build motor/microprocessor/modem remote controlled curtain openers etc, not kit based, & long before modems were affordable & cheap commodities, etc. I was designing a computer, & trying to float a start up company. Other things, I've done are Here. Most real engineers have probably done similar, but they may help illustrate some things a programmer is tempramentaly less likely to do in his free time than an engineer. One can be a damn good programmer, & still not be an engineer, & vice versa. smiley face icon

C. Julian H. Stacey 2004.

Stolen VotesBerklix.Net Computer AssociatesDomainsApache: Web ServerFreeBSD: Operating System