What is a Computer Systems Engineer ?
What is a Software Engineer ?
Is the title "Software Engineer" a misnomer ? Is it still
an Engineer ?
(A computer systems
engineer, programmer & Unix systems administrator)
This draft page was written April 2004, & is not
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
- 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
A UK Viewpoint:
The BCS (British Computer
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
, & IEE has toyed with being
swallowed by USA's IEEE
(let's not kid ourselves that would be a merger of
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,
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
, I've never applied for accreditation, (I know
I'm an Engineer, & don't need to pay to hear what I
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.
C. Julian H. Stacey 2004.