The Recognition of Software Engineering

Ted Byers rtbyers at
Tue Aug 1 20:58:03 EST 2000

Daniel Leonard <leonard at datura.BCH.UMontreal.CA> wrote in message
news:Pine.GSO.4.21.0008011647200.939-100000 at datura.BCH.UMontreal.CA...
On Tue, 1 Aug 2000, Ted Byers wrote:

> Daniel,
> To go with that, take a look at, especially
> the introduction, the rest is for breaks
That is an excellent, funny site.


>> It is certain that for most of the folk in that lab, the extent
>> of their computer skills would consist in an ability to use it as a fancy
>> typewriter.  I think many biologists do not take their computers as
>> seriously as they take their other equipment.  I was even told by one
>> professor that I should not even try to become an able programmer: that
>> instead I should find someone who knows what they are doing to write my
>> programs for me.

> See my father story above. I think he is right because while you are
> focusing on programming, you are not focusing on biology, but see below.

That isn't entirely true.  The process of developing an abstract model for a
biological system, in which you are doing nothing but think about the
biology, is very similar to designing a program.  And when developing a
program to study a problem in environmental science, the real system is
always in the back of my mind.  In fact, one of the tools I find very useful
in developing models of ecosystems in object oriented analysis as best
enumerated in object oriented programming.

> Software Engineering is trying to become a real engineering field (like
> mining, civil, electronic). But since it is so new, easily less than 40
> years, it encounters many problems. Here in Quebec, we have different
>professionnal orders (enginneer, nurse, doctors,...) that are legally
>recognized (you cannot do enginneer work without being recognized by the
>enginneer order). There is also a computer scientist association, but it
>is not an order because it is not recognized by the law as are the
>others. It tells a lot about the seriousness of software engineer and
>computer scientist position in society (and the other are the first to
>come to us when their is a bug - aka Y2K).

Actually, I don't especially care what others, especially those in
government, think of what I do.  What matters to me is that a) I have a
living wage and, most importantly, b) that my work is of the best possible
quality that I can produce.  As I see it, software engineering is a real
engineering discpline.  Who cares if others recognise it as such.  What
makes a profession a profession is the degree of expertise required to do it
well and a professional standard of conduct.  This is why I would much more
critical of a scientist using computational methods for his research who
treats it like a black box than I would be of a lawyer who treats a computer
like a black box.  The results obtained by the lawyer for the practice of
his profession would not normally depend on his understanding of what goes
on inside the computer.  The results obtained by the scientist depend
critically on understanding what the computer is doing.  It is madness for a
scientist to place confidence on results spewed forth by his program unless
he has detailed knowledge of what that program did to his data, and he ought
to be able to tell the difference between valid results and spurious
artifacts of ill-behaved algorithms.  If he can't give me a detailed
explanation of how the algorithm he is using works and under what
circumstances it may fail, I would likely regard his results as dubious at
best (unless he is using a commercial package that has been demonstrated
elsewhere to work reasonably reliably - in which case his results are only

I don't think either of us will have to worry about work since the demand is
so great that there are numerous so-called colleges providing outrageously
expensive computer courses of limited value in getting work in the industry.
I'd bet that they get their ethics and way of doing business from that
famous law firm Dewey, Cheatum and Howe.



R.E. Byers
rtbyers at

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