The Recognition of Software Engineering

Daniel Leonard leonard at datura.BCH.UMontreal.CA
Tue Aug 1 16:04:47 EST 2000

On Tue, 1 Aug 2000, Ted Byers wrote:

> Daniel,
> You are correct.  When you are working an a program where much of the cod=
> is experimental, you will find a much greater proportion of your design
> changing as you proceed than is the case with most COTS.  With most custo=
> and commercial software, the majority of your design changes (assuming
> capable engineers to begin with) will be due to changing functional
> requirements, with only a few due to bugs in or limitations of the
> development tools.  With experimental code, in many cases, you discover
> limitations inherent in the algorithms and various kinds of abstractions
> tested, so a much larger proportion of your code is likely to change.
> Therefore, it is increasingly essential not only to begin with decent des=
> documents, but to maintain them, including a changelog with the rational =
> the changes, as the project proceeds.

That must be what happened :) Especially in my personnal projects.

> Unfortunately, in many labs, the focus is on the natural science and
> computer programming is seen as just a routine exercise to get useful
> results.

That is what my father always tells me. You do not want a computer, the
computer is a necessary tool you need to progress. A tool that you do not
necessary want. So some people use it in a backward way, because they
must, not because they want. They see it as a necessary evil that they
would be glad to get rid of (his examples dates from when he was a
commercial vendor for Digital in the 70-80 IIRC - 1980, I was 4). Maybe it
is the same today, maybe not.

> I don't think I have seen a lab were the development of the
> programs used is as carefully documented as the lab or field work.  I hav=
> seen some where they don't even keep backup copies of data and programs
> used.

To go with that, take a look at http://rinkworks.com/stupid/, especially
the introduction, the rest is for breaks


> 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.

> After all, I am a biologist and real biologists don't
> write their own programs.  I didn't listent to him, because I didn't agre=
> :-)

Well, isn't here a phrase that says:

You are never better served than by yourself


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=20
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).


Daniel L=E9onard

OGMP Informatics Division    E-Mail: leonard at bch.umontreal.ca
D=E9partement de Biochimie     Tel   : (514) 343-6111 ext 5149
Universit=E9 de Montr=E9al       Fax   : (514) 343-2210
Montr=E9al, Quebec             Office: Pavillon Principal G-312
Canada H3C 3J7               WWW   :

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