David Parnas has said that software engineering is, in fact, a form of engineering.. Steve McConnell has said that it is not, but that it should be. Donald Knuth has said that programming is an art and a science.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies computer software engineers as a subcategory of "computer specialists", along with occupations such as computer scientist, programmer, and network administrator. The BLS classifies all other engineering disciplines, including computer hardware engineers, as "engineers".
The U.K. has seen the alignment of the Information Technology Professional and the Engineering Professionals. Software engineering in Canada has seen some contests in the courts over the use of the title "Software Engineer"
Typical formal definitions of software engineering are
- "the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation, and maintenance of software".
- "an engineering discipline that is concerned with all aspects of software production"
- "the establishment and use of sound engineering principles in order to economically obtain software that is reliable and works efficiently on real machines"
As Dijkstra pointed out, the terms software engineering and software engineer have, at times, also been misused in a much wider sense, particularly in America. The term has been used less formally:
- as the informal contemporary term for the broad range of activities that were formerly called programming and systems analysis;
- as the broad term for all aspects of the practice of computer programming, as opposed to the theory of computer programming, which is called computer science;
- as the term embodying the advocacy of a specific approach to computer programming, one that urges that it be treated as an engineering discipline rather than an art or a craft, and advocates the codification of recommended practices in the form of software engineering methodologies.
Software is often found in products and situations where very high reliability is expected, even under demanding conditions, such as monitoring and controlling nuclear power plants, or keeping a modern airliner aloft. Such applications contain millions of lines of code, making them comparable in complexity to the most complex modern machines. For example, a modern airliner has several million physical parts (and the space shuttle about ten million parts), while the software for such an airliner can run to 4 million lines of code.
Technologies and practices
Software engineers advocate many different technologies and practices, with much disagreement, which has originated a debate that has gone on for over 60 years. Software engineers use a wide variety of technologies: compilers, code repositories, text editors. They also use a wide variety of practices to carry out and coordinate their efforts: pair programming, code reviews and daily stand up meetings.
In spite of the enormous economic growth and productivity gains enabled by software, persistent complaints about the quality of software remain.
- See also: Debates within software engineering
The software engineering profession
Debate over the term 'engineering'
Some people believe that software development is a more appropriate term than software engineering for the process of creating software. Pete McBreen, (author of "Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative" (ISBN 0-201-73386-2)), argues that the term Software Engineering implies levels of rigor and proven processes that are not appropriate for all types of software development. He argues strongly for 'craftsmanship' as a more appropriate metaphor because that term brings into sharper focus the skills of the developer as the key to success instead of the "manufacturing" process. Using a more traditional comparison, just as not everyone who works in construction is a civil engineer, not everyone who can write code is a software engineer.
Some people dispute the notion that the field is mature enough to warrant the title "engineering". In each of the last few decades, at least one radical new approach has entered the mainstream of software development (e.g. Structured Programming, Object Orientation, ... ), implying that the field is still changing too rapidly to be considered an engineering discipline. Other people would argue that the supposedly radical new approaches are actually evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the mere introduction of new tools rather than fundamental changes.
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People from many different educational backgrounds make important contributions to SE. Today, software engineers earn software engineering, computer engineering or computer science degrees. However, there are a great number of people in the industry without engineering degrees earned from accredited universities, so the use of the term "software engineer" is somewhat ambiguous.
- Software degrees in the U.S. and Canada
- About half of all practitioners today have computer science degrees. A small, but growing, number of practitioners have software engineering degrees. In 1996, Rochester Institute of Technology established the first BSSE degree program in the United States but did not obtain ABET until 2003, the same time as Clarkson University, Milwaukee School of Engineering and Mississippi State University  . Since then, software engineering undergraduate degrees have been established at many universities. A standard international curriculum for undergraduate software engineering degrees was recently defined by the CCSE. As of 2004, in the U.S., about 50 universities offer software engineering degrees, which teach both computer science and engineering principles and practices. The first graduate software engineering degree (MSSE) was established at Seattle University in 1979. Since then graduate software engineering degrees have been made available from many more universities. Likewise in Canada, the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) of the Canadian Council of Professional EngineersMcMaster University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Victoria. has recognized software engineering programs in engineering faculties such as
- In 1998, the prestigious US Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) established the first doctoral program in Software Engineering in the world. As of the beginning of 2006, thirteen students had graduated from the program and assumed senior-level leadership roles in the Department of Defense research and development community.
- Domain degrees
- Some practitioners have degrees in application domains, bringing important domain knowledge and experience to projects. In MIS, some practitioners have business degrees. In embedded systems, some practitioners have electrical or computer engineeringmedical informatics, general medical, or biology degrees. degrees, because embedded software often requires a detailed understanding of hardware. In medical software, some practitioners have
- Other degrees
- Some practitioners have mathematics, science, engineering, or technology degrees. Some have philosophy (logic in particular) or other non-technical degrees. And, some have no degrees. For instance, Barry Boehm earned degrees in mathematics.
- Professional recognition difficulties in Canada
- The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (C.C.P.E. or "Engineers Canada") will not grant a "Professional Engineer" status/license to anyone who has not completed a recognized academic engineering program. Many software, and other, engineers, qualified outside Canada, are unable to obtain a "Professional Engineer" "license" in Canada. (See Council for Access to the Profession of Engineering )
- See also: software engineering demographics
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 required 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 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.
Most successful certification programs in the software 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.
The ACM had a professional certification program in the early 1980s, which was discontinued due to lack of interest. As of 2006, the IEEE had certified over 575 software professionals. In Canada the Canadian Information Processing Society has developed a legally recognized professional certification called Information Systems Professional (ISP).
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 government 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. 
Comparing related fields
Many fields are closely related to software engineering; here are some key similarities and distinctions. Comparing SE with other fields helps explain what SE is and helps define what SE might or should become. There is considerable debate over which fields SE most resembles (or should most resemble). These complex and inexact comparisons explain why some see software engineering as its own field.
Software engineering has a long evolving history. Both the tools that are used and the applications that are written have evolved over time. It seems likely that software engineering will continue evolving for many decades to come.
60 year time line
- 1940s: First computer users wrote machine code by hand.
- 1950s: Early tools, such as macro assemblers and interpreters were created and widely used to improve productivity and quality. First-generation optimizing compilers.
- 1960s: Second generation tools like optimizing compilers and inspections were being used to improve productivity and quality. The concept of software engineering was widely discussed. First really big (1000 programmer) projects. Commercial mainframes and custom software for big business. The influential 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering was held.
- 1970s: Collaborative software tools, such as Unix, code repositories, make, and so on. Minicomputers and the rise of small business software.
- 1980s: Personal computers and personal workstations became common. Commensurate rise of consumer software.
- 1990s: Object-oriented programming and agile processes like Extreme programming. Computer memory capacity sky-rocketed and prices dropped drastically. These new technologies allowed software to grow more complex. The WWW and hand-held computers made software even more widely available. gained mainstream acceptance
- 2000s: Managed code and interpreted platforms such as Java, .NET, Ruby, Python and PHP made writing software easier than ever before. Offshore outsourcing changed the nature and focus of software engineering careers.
Current trends in software engineering
Software engineering is a young discipline, and is still developing. The directions in which software engineering is developing include:
- Aspects help software engineers deal with -ilities by providing tools to add or remove boilerplate code from many areas in the source code. Aspects describe how all objects or functions should behave in particular circumstances. For example, aspects can add debugging, logging, or locking control into all objects of particular types. Researchers are currently working to understand how to use aspects to design general-purpose code. Related concepts include generative programming and templates.
- Agile software development guides software development projects that evolve rapidly with changing expectations and competitive markets. Proponents of this method believe that heavy, document-driven processes (like TickIT, CMM and ISO 9000) are fading in importance. Some people believe that companies and agencies export many of the jobs that can be guided by heavy-weight processes. Related concepts include Extreme Programming and Lean software development.
- Experimental software engineering is a branch of software engineering interested in devising experiments on software, in collecting data from the experiments, and in devising laws and theories from this data. Proponents of this method advocate that the nature of software is such that we can advance the knowledge on software through experiments only.
- Model Driven Software Development uses (both textual and graphical) models as primary development artifacts. By means of model transformation and code generation a part or complete applications are generated.
- Software Product Lines
- Software Product Lines is a systematic way to produce families of software systems, instead of creating a succession of completely individual products. This method emphasizes extensive, systematic, formal code reuse, to try to industrialize the software development process.
The Future of Software Engineering conference (FOSE), held at ICSE 2000, documented the state of the art of SE in 2000 and listed many problems to be solved over the next decade. The FOSE tracks at the ICSE 2000 and the ICSE 2007 conferences also help identify the state of the art in software engineering. The Feyerabend project attempts to discover the future of software engineering by seeking and publishing innovative ideas.
Software engineering today
The profession is trying to define its boundary and content. The Software Engineering Body of Knowledge SWEBOK been tabled as an ISO standard during 2006 (ISO/IEC TR 19759).
In 2006, Money Magazine and Salary.com rated software engineering as the best job in America in terms of growth, pay, stress levels, flexibility in hours and working environment, creativity, and how easy it is to enter and advance in the field.
See also software engineering economics.