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.

Engineering Positions in Software Engineering

The number of different types of engineering jobs posted on job websites can be mind-numbing to the layman. It can even befuddle experienced professionals who have spent a lifetime working in an engineering trade, because most of these job types did not exist until the rapid adoption of personal computing and intranet in the eighties and nineties.

The coming of the internet age has created endless engineering job opportunities for computer science students. In a large computer software and services company, each software programming team is a led by a dedicated engineering project manager. The manager draws work plans to meet specific objectives across the project lifecycle and allocates work to the software programmers.

In smaller companies, each project manager handles several software engineering projects. Although the engineering project manager is not expected to do programming himself, he should be aware of the challenges faced by his team members to ensure optimal resource and time allocation.

The project manager works in conjunction with a client-facing senior engineer called a software business analyst. The business analyst discusses the top-level project objectives and elicits specific system requirements through consultations with the client. Before the requirements document is handed over the engineering project manager, it must be signed off by the client. The requirements document is legally binding as the terms of the contract between the client and the software company with regards to the specific functionalities desired in the software.

After the client’s approval, the requirements document is handed over to the project manager. The project manager reaches out to a software engineering architect to draw the high level game plan regarding technical architecture of the software. It includes information such number of modules, programming language, and coding platform to be used etc. The software architect’s contribution becomes the blueprint for all other programmers. After the software architecture has been defined, the project manager makes project plans accordingly.

Next, the software programmers are handed over task-level requirements of each software module. The code written by the software programmers is neatly documented for future testing by qualified software quality engineers. Software quality engineers can use either manual testing for all modules of the software or create automated testing scripts. For large software engineering projects, manual testing is practically infeasible.

The software quality engineers provide their inputs back to the programmers regarding any errors in the programming. The software programmer then revised the code accordingly and sends it back for another round of testing. The process is repeated until the quality engineer has finally approved the code completely.

Understanding Software Engineering

It is a systematization of the process of software development to ensure the best solution most economically. Its goal is to produce high quality software at low rate.

Software Engineering is the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation and maintenance of software. A typical software development project will need to go through the phase of Analysis, Design, Programming, Testing and Implementation. Software Project Management (SPM), Software Quality Assurance (SQA) and the use of Computer aided Software Engineering (CASE) would run parallel with the other phases and finally comes the maintenance phase. It is always said that more than 80% of the costs go towards maintenance of the software.

Software Methodology

It is a step by step plan for implementing a method using certain tools and procedures. It often describes the entry criteria, exit criteria and checkpoint for each of the activities or components in software engineering. Some of the popular methodologies today are based on structure techniques or information engineering or object-oriented techniques. Methodology selection depends on the nature of the project, the type of application, the tools proposed to be used and the kind of controls and documentation that would be required.

Waterfall, Prototyping, Spiral, Rapid Application, Stepwise Refinement, Industrial and military standards, Assembly by reuse, Application generation, Continuous transformation and Knowledge based software automation are some of the popular methodologies.

What factors would influence the choice of model for software development?

It depends on the nature and size of application, whether it is an in-house development or development through an external agency, the availability of various tools and resources, time frame and budget, etc.

Who is Software Engineer?

A software engineer is someone who applied engineering principles in the co-operative development of software. A good software engineer should not only generate computer programs but also learn the skills to produce good documentation, database and operational procedures for the computer system. He should be well defined about the components or modules of software engineering.