The Lad was delighted to read that the head honcho of Google – no less – was pressing the importance of engineering. This was still true even in the present world, said Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, in his speech the other day at the Science Museum, London. To many of his clients that present world is cyberspace. The only way seemingly to get a copy of the speech is to approach Anoek Eckhardt, Communications & Public Affairs Manager, Google UK & Ireland at Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
It was very wide-ranging of course but it was in a part towards the end that his very words were:
“Pure Science is a crucial ingredient, but it’s only when theory is applied that you have the recipe for economic success. As Edison put it, the value of an idea lies in using it.
That’s why engineering is so important – it is, by definition, applied science. While astronomy inspires us to reach for the stars, we rely on avionics experts to take us there.. Physics helps explain the behaviour of subatomic particles; nanotechnology uses them to make things. Materials science determines the properties of things we build with; structural engineers apply that knowledge to design things that won’t fall down.
Unfortunately, engineering still has an image problem. It’s high time to move beyond the oily tag stereotype and show engineering in its true modern light.”
What a marvellous statement, as a whole, to emanate from Google. The Lad had a minor quibble about ‘space flight relying on “avionics experts”. Avionics is a shortened form of ‘aviation electronics’. It is an important component of the space project but a wide range of disciplines is needed to get anywhere in Space. But let us move on.
But then The Lad noted also that he referred to
“…the role of engineers in developing ….. video games, texting and social networking,….” as well as “Only 2% of Google engineers …”
This blog is about topics in such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, etc., etc. It has a working definition for such as these which involves natural forces in the world. This blog has addressed this before. Go to ‘The Engineer as Rock God’ http://isambardkingdom.com/?p=4 .
The Lad then asked himself the question whether it is generally accepted, not just in Google, that every professionally qualified IT professional in any speciality [coder, circuit designer etc., etc.] is titled an Engineer? His first thought was that coding is more akin to mathematics or accountancy or the Law rather than engineering.
But then chip design on the other hand seemed clearly an engineering discipline grounded on electrical forces and a type of production engineering. The design of hard disc drives, with their seemingly never-ending increase of storage size, he thinks must involve components of the highest accuracy and of minute size but is engineering nonetheless.
David Evans Director, Membership for British Computer Society, http://www.bcs.org/ , [BCS] which is the Chartered Institute for IT, answered the questions whether the BCS has an official position on the title or whether it could advise on current usage. It transpired that here, with this question, we were stepping lightly into an area freighted with emotion. Highlights of what, in a very full and exclusive discussion, he told us are:
“Interesting question! This is without a shadow of a doubt a very emotive topic for our members, our sector, and for the engineering community as a whole. …
We offer CEng [Chartered Engineer as offered by many other Engineering Institutions] licensed through the Engineering Council, but as a Chartered body ourselves we offer Chartered IT Professional [CITP]. http://www.bcs.org/content/ConTab/79 … There are … people who are very clearly in the CITP domain and others who are clearly in the CEng domain.
We are very clear that it is necessary for us to have CITP, as there are people who are IT professionals who would have no affinity with or interest in CEng, but are very much the sort of people who should achieve a Chartered status.”
The highlights of what a member also told us are:
“While UK-SPEC lays out the competencies for an engineer, … being an engineer is as much about identity and attitude as it is about competency … to some degree a state of mind. … for the average IT professional it is so much more about people and organisations. … IT professionals enable organisations to function, change, grow and adapt. … engineers will always be part of the profession, and engineering will always be the close cousin.”
Dame Wendy Hall is Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton and was Head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science. http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/wh/ She is clearly a power in Global IT and, with her current research interests being the Web, her views carry great weight. She wrote directly to The Lad that:
“I am convinced that software engineering is indeed a branch of engineering. Software engineers build things. The things they build have to be robust, reliable, efficient, effective etc., etc
The robustness and reliability of software is of vital importance in many applications (can mean the difference between life and death) and so software engineering as a discipline must be taught in accordance with the principles of what it means to be a chartered engineer just like any other branch of engineering.
… being CEng means more [than CITP] to me. … we teach a degree called Computer Science but it is to all intents and purposes a Software Engineering degree and I’m very proud that … our students are qualified achieve the award of CEng.
Computer Science is … both a science and engineering. … it has a proper place in the panoply of engineering disciplines.”
Here is an intellectually powerful, highly distinguished academic who is, both a CEng and, also wants to be an engineer. Respect! Genuinely, engineers must be very grateful for this, and accept it graciously. The Lad certainly does. Lord knows; there are so few engineers of the status of Professor Hall apparent to the popular consciousness.
Well there you have it. We have three distinguished practitioners regarding themselves as engineers and two of them have taken significant time to wrestle with our question for us. What are we to make of it? What is there to be said?
Statements and questions follow. Discuss.
Robustness and reliability in the practice and drafting of a law can mean the difference between life and death but is not engineering.
Is not the ‘art of the possible’ in coding governed mostly by the mathematical logic of the mathematician?
Does a hard-nosed, results-oriented attack on obstacles in any endeavour make it engineering?
Can the chip manufacturer or the designer of a high speed printer be a member of the same profession as coder or designer of a server operating system?
Is the cabinet maker a member of the same profession as the toolmaker of her planes and chisels.
No more an author is a printer or bookmaker.
How true is it that “Software engineers build things.”? Should not “things” have more substance than software “objects”?
Has the title ‘School of Electronics and Computer Science’ got it about right?
It has been more difficult to write this post than any other so far. The Lad moved easily into pompous sermonising: there came rolling phrases and solemn cadences about misuse of language, naming conventions, wanting being not enough and so on for several, heavy paragraphs without end coming into sight.
But to hell with it: it’s really simple.
The word ‘engineer’ began with those who began devising and building structures to generate or convert existing forces to replace human, animal or wind and water power with something more convenient. Engines, see?
To repeat: up until recently all those engineers (undoubted engineers – such as civil, electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, etc. etc.) have each waged the one common, fundamental struggle. It is that of dealing with forces already existing in the natural world to bend them to the benefit of humankind. This common feature must, therefore, be the fundamental criterion for inclusion under the aegis of the term.The only exceptions have been those writers who would, describing individuals or tasks, use the term to picture a practical person in some sort of analogy.
Those who design and build physical computers or components are wrestling with electromagnetic forces in electronic components and materials. They are, thus, engineers. However, those who conceive the software structure and write the instructions are not dealing with forces in the natural world. They can only be engineers in some analogy: treating with ‘forces’ of logic in some Platonic world of Ideals.
Then, consider the infinite plasticity of Turing’s Universal machine. What could be more remote from the challenges of the natural world and its real, physical working materials? These challenges and materials comprise the world of the engineer. Ergo! The workers in Information Technology systems design and software programmers are not engineers.
This is not to suggest in any way that the software and systems tasks that they face are easy. Indeed, in some ways, due to the almost infinite size of the field of endeavour; the logical intensity of a complex program and the consequences of error [NatWest, 2012 and spacecraft – say no more] the tasks provide the highest intellectual challenge.
Sorry, not to say bold, to turn Google away,
What to call them is the topic of the next post. Here is a teaser: in what way will this image will be part of it?