Software engineers talk certification

Should software engineers be licensed and certified, like engineers in other fields? With the passing last year of the Chartered Professional Engineers of NZ Act, it's a timely topic for discussion, says Auckland University engineering senior lecturer Bruce MacDonald.

Should software engineers be licensed and certified, like engineers in other fields?

With the passing last year of the Chartered Professional Engineers of NZ Act, which replaced an earlier, less stringent act (but doesn’t cover software engineering), it’s a timely topic for discussion, says Auckland University engineering senior lecturer Bruce MacDonald.

The idea will be discussed at Programming Good Practice: Towards a Software Engineering Profession, a New Zealand Computer Society event to be held in Auckland on Thursday evening.

A panel including developer Robert Barnes, MacDonald and AUT’s Steve MacDonell will convene the discussion.

“There’s always been a system for registering engineers, but it hasn’t really involved software engineers,” says McDonald. “However, software is now a big thing, with people’s lives and lots of money dependent on it.”

IPENZ, the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand, has been seeking views of what a set of competencies for software engineers might include, MacDonald says.

A potential model is SWEBOK (Software Engineering Body of Knowledge), an international project, still at draft stage, based on PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), which sets standards for project managers.

SWEBOK will be discussed in depth at Thursday’s meeting. Panellist Steve MacDonell has had input into it.

Panel convener Robert Barnes says it could be argued that if “information technology” is to be a true profession, like law or medicine “then an accepted qualification based on an agreed body of knowledge is necessary. The widely publicised failure of projects such as INCIS shows that we, as a profession, still have much to learn.

“Engineers don’t build bridges that fall over, largely because there are accepted practices they must follow to prevent such failure.”

However, he sounds a note of caution on SWEBOK.

“IT is rapidly changing and there’s no consensus that such a body of knowledge can be agreed and there’s a real fear that any such body will be obsolete before it can be formalised.

“The counter-argument is that an agreed body of knowledge, with formal procedures and registration, will lock us into approaches that are already obsolete, for example providing the best way to develop Cobol systems for mainframes but being highly counterproductive in the world of networked servers and PCs.

“Support for SWEBOK is strong from engineering-related branches of computing but weaker from commercial computing.”

The IEEE supports SWEBOK but not the ACM, he says.

Such contrasting views will provide fuel for the discussion, the theme of which is “SWEBOK — what is it? Do we need it? Who is behind it, what needs to happen for it to become as important as PMBOK, who needs it and does it apply to everyone?

The event is on at Peace Software, 100 Symonds St at 6pm. Admission is $20 for NZCIS members; $30 for non-members.

More details are here.

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