The Challenges of a Software Engineer

While it’s true that the engineer is also a programmer, and there are some design duties included in the core job functions, there are also some very fundamental, critical differences in the manner in which software engineers, programmers, and designers complete their work. Many engineers would also argue that there is a marked difference in the quality and performance of the products they produce as well.

Software engineer jobs take a more formal approach to the process of programming software. The manner in which engineers complete their work is much more similar to traditional engineering processes than it is to software programming or designing methods.

Software engineers are often involved in the most complex of design or programming activities. Though every day, run of the mill programs can be designed by less skilled folks, many programs can’t be trusted to just any old programmer.

For example, programs that control important processes – especially in circumstances where human lives may be lost if an error occurs in a program – are primarily the realm of highly skilled software engineers. After all, you don’t want the software that runs a key piece of medical equipment or that which drives the operating system of a nuclear submarine to fail.

This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of design engineer jobs with which incumbents must constantly contend. They are tasked with ensuring the smooth and efficient operations of incredibly complex and sometimes frightening processes with computer enhanced systems.

Design engineers are tasked not only with creating a software program that will serve the basic needs of a business, organization, or other client, but they must also foresee the potential pitfalls associated with the program as well. They must be able to grasp the technological concepts of the methods or practices with which the program is intended to interface and design the software appropriately for the highly technical, and often potentially dangerous, environment in which it will be used.

Although the average programmer or designer may be able to afford a few minor glitches, for those working in design engineer jobs, there is often no such thing as a minor glitch. Of the software fails, the consequences can be great. The pressure that design engineers face on a daily basis is tremendous for this very reason.

Software engineers also face some other unique challenges in the IT world. They must often complete a lot more paperwork than most IT professionals. Once again remaining true to the engineering trade, software engineers will draft designs, test them for quality, integrity and performance, and will frequently redesign them several times before moving from paper or prototypes to the real deal. In fact, many of those who work in software engineer jobs will spend as much as 70 – 80% of their time dealing with paperwork and only 20 – 30% actually writing code for the software itself.

Computer Software Engineer Careers

Finding the right career can be a challenge, you want a job that you will find interesting but that also offers a bright future and a large salary. If you have an interest in computer programming then a good option can be a career as a software engineer. There are few jobs out there that can compete with it in terms of pay and job security.

The biggest reason that you may want to become a software engineer, besides enjoying the work, is that it is a career field that has excellent prospects. There is a huge demand for new software and that means that there is a huge demand for people who are able to create it. The result is that you should have no trouble finding a job if you have the required skills. In fact there are few careers anywhere that can offer the same kind of job security as software engineering currently does.

The other big reason that people go into the software engineering field is that it can be a very high paying job. This is particularly true for people who are first starting out. Every year when the list of highest paying jobs for new college graduates comes out computer science degrees are right near the top of the list. That is the good news, the bad news is that the pay does not increase by as much as in other fields. That being said virtually all software engineers are very well compensated.

One of the reasons that engineers don’t usually see their pay increase by a lot as they progress is that few of them move into management. Often this is because they have no interest in doing so but it is also often because they do not have the required skills. A software engineer who makes the effort to develop management skills will be huge demand to lead teams and can earn a very large salary.

There are a lot of ways that you can become a software engineer, it is actually one of the few career fields where high school dropouts and PhD’s can be working at the same job. A skill for programming can often get you a job with no formal education in the field, however you will find that it is a lot easier to find a job if you have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering.

Dagstuhl Seminar End – User Software Engineering

I have been reading this abstracts paper from the Dagstuhl Seminar End-User Software Engineering and it has lots of interesting points to make.

In the Dagstuhl Seminar report (Burnett et al) it is stated that “The number of end users creating software is far larger than the number of professional programmers. These end users are using various languages and programming systems to create software in forms such as spreadsheets, dynamic web applications, and scientific simulations. This software needs to be sufficiently dependable, but substantial evidence suggests that it is not.” This point relates to that of (Ko) (Carnegie Mellon University) who explains that the goals of end-users may be unrelated to production of code, but instead they are interested in their domain problem, this means they perceive programming barriers as distractions. Ko explains that end-user programmers must be allowed to focus on their goals, and an important part of the solution is to visualise the whole program execution not just the output. A further problem outlined by Ko is that of programs which were intended to be temporary and owned by a particular person becoming central to a company, this often happens with spreadsheets.

(Henry Lieberman) of MIT Media Laboratory asks “Why is it so much harder to program a computer than simply to use a computer application? I can’t think of any good reason why this is so; we just happen to have a tradition of arcane programming languages and mystically complex software development techniques. We can do much better.” He argues that researchers should use program transformation, and visualisation to make the end-user programming process as automatic as possible. In order that people can become End-User Software Engineers without their even realizing it. This needs to involve interdisciplinary research to combine different research approaches. (Blackwell) also argues the need for interdisciplinary research on the end-user programming problem to identify techniques within software engineering that can assist with this problem.

(Coutaz) explains how Model Driven Engineering and Service Oriented Architecture can be combined. Coutaz also explains that “An interactive system is a graph of models related by mappings and transformations.” This would fit in well with the structure of RDF (Resource Description Framework) a Semantic Web standard, which is also a graph structure. Alexander Repenning of University of Lugano explains the need for enhancements to UML (Unified Modeling Language) to aid end-user programming. (Engels) of University of Paderborn also explains that UML should be extended to allow development of user interfaces in order to assist end-users to program. (Repenning) also argues that “Visual programming languages using drag and drop mechanisms as programming approach make it virtually impossible to create syntactic errors.” So “With the syntactic challenge being – more or less – out of the way we can focus on the semantic level of end-user programming.” (Rosson) of Pennsylvania State University also explains about creation of a web based drag and drop interface. Abraham and (Erwig) of Oregon State University integrate spreadsheet modelling into the UML modelling process. (Gerhard Fischer) of University of Colorado explains the concept of meta-design as aimed at creating infrastructures for collaborative design assuming future uses and problems cannot be completely anticipated during development of a system. (Dittrich) of University of Copenhagen argues that more research is needed into the software lifecycle and methods and tools needed for end-user developers, especially when they are collaborating. These end-users often need to adjust old software for new purposes. (Costabile and Piccinno) also explain that new methodologies and environments are required for supporting end-user collaborative development

(De Souza) argues that the goal of human-computer interaction (HCI) will evolve from making systems easy to use to making systems that are easy to develop. Lieberman also argues that HCI experts have concentrated on ease of use and should examine ease of programming. (Begel) of Microsoft Research explains that if programming is left only to programmers rather than allowing domain experts to be involved the program becomes a black box and the domain expert cannot trust or verify the results. He explains that text based computer languages are often too obscure for end-user programmers. Begel also explains that end-users may lack an engineering mindset to form mental models of how to make the computer do what they want. Segal of the Open University argues that professional engineers have a history of programming so can be distinguished from other end-user programmers as having less problems with coding. (Fischer) explains that it is the mismatches between end-users needs and software support that enables new understandings. Fischer also argues that software development can never be completely delegated to software professionals because domain experts are the only people that fully understand the domain specific tasks that must be performed. He also argues for an approach to enabling end-user programming that makes it interesting to end-users. He explains that often the problem is that end-users find programming boring rather than that they find it hard. (Spahn et al) explains that end-users of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems are domain experts not IT professionals, and this is forcing them to communicate their needs to IT developers. Spahn et al argue for the empowerment of users to customise software by providing an abstraction layer to hide technical details and allow for concentrating on business needs.

(Clarke) of Microsoft examines the characteristics of end-user developers in order to assist with meeting their needs. (Fischer) hypothesises that this emphasis on end-user development also changes the emphasis on testing “Software testing is conducted differently. Because domain expert developers themselves are the primary users, complete testing is not as important as in the case when the developers are not the users.”

References

End-User Software Engineering – Dagstuhl Seminar – Summary – http://www.dagstuhl.de/en/program/calendar/semhp/?semnr=2007081 – PDF Abstracts and links to papers – http://eusesconsortium.org/docs/dagstuhl_2007.pdf – Margaret M. Burnett, Gregor Engels, Brad A. Myers and Gregg Rothermel – From 18.01.07 to 23.02.07, the Dagstuhl Seminar 07081 End-User Software Engineering was held in the International Conference and Research Center (IBFI), Schloss Dagstuhl. During the seminar, several participants presented their current research, and ongoing work and open problems were discussed.

Abraham, R., Erwig, M., 2007. Exploiting Domain-Specific Structures For End-User Programming Support Tools. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Begel, A., 2007. End User Programming for Scientists: Modeling Complex Systems. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Blackwell, A., 2007. Interdisciplinary Design Research for End-User Software Engineering. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Burnett, M. M., Engels, G, Myers, B. A., Rothermel, G., 2007. End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Clarke, S., 2007. What is an End User Software Engineer?. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Costabile, M. F., Piccinno, A., 2007. Software environments for supporting End-User Development. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Coutaz, J., 2007. Meta-User Interfaces for Ambient Spaces: Can Model-Driven-Engineering Help?. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

De Souza, C., 2007. Designers Need End-User Software Engineering. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Dittrich, Y., 2007. Rethinking the Software Life Cycle: About the Interlace of Different Design and Development Activities. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Engels, G., 2007. Model-Driven Development for End-Users, too!? In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Fischer, G., 2007. Meta-Design: A Conceptual Framework for End-User Software Engineering. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Gross, M. D., 2007. Designers Need End-User Software Engineering. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Ko, A. J., 2007. Barriers to Successful End-User Programming. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Lieberman, H., 2007. End-User Software Engineering Position Paper. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Repenning, A., 2007. End-User Design. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Rosson, M. B., 2007. Position paper for EUSE 2007 at Dagstuhl. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Segal, J., 2007. End-User Software Engineering and Professional End-User Developers. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.

Spahn, M., Scheidl, S., Stoitsev, T., 2007. End-User Development Techniques for Enterprise Resource Planning Software Systems. In: End-User Software Engineering Dagstuhl Seminar.