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In Defence of the Software Engineer

It is often argued that software engineers are not real engineers as they lack the credentials and formal methods required to claim the title. I will counter that, first of all, these statements are simply false; and second, that this argument relies on a mistaken notion of what it means to be an engineer.

The credentials part is the easiest to argue as I am myself a Qualified Engineer certified by the engineering certification authority of my country, the Commission des Titres d'Ingénieur. Consider me the living proof that it can be done!

Now, that we don't rely sufficiently on formal methods as a profession can be argued either way. Some software developers will reject the idea of being engineers and prefer to call themselves craftsmen. It is true that in many cases a software developer has to come with unique and creative solutions to a problem, making it hard to apply formal methods. On the other hand, a lot of software engineering is rigorous and has a wide overlap with computer science: for example in the fields of machine learning, natural language processing, information retrieval, distributed systems, programming languages, etc.

A schema of my views on the different software roles

In the end, however, the debate centered around certifications and formal methods misses the point on the nature of engineering, which is to invent and build solutions, taking into account real-life limitations and trade-offs. It is the bridge between science, technology, and human needs.

One should not forget that the word engineer comes from the Latin words ingeniare ("to contrive, devise") and ingenium ("cleverness"). If formal methods can help, all the best. But ultimately it is about delivering a working product in the real world. And with this goal in mind, creativity should have no limit.


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