The Lad held forth in the last post on the use of the name of Engineer in IT. This was based upon a self-awarded mandate. This stemmed from his being a coarse engineer: alumnus of an ancient school who, since time immemorial, have wrestled with forces in the natural world. The conclusion was that there were engineer practitioners in certain IT fields such as chip and disc drive design. He argued that the practitioners in those other IT fields of software design and systems analysis are not engineers.
Some will find this stemming from woeful ignorance or, at least, patronising. Both will tend to ignore any views from here and are fully at liberty to do so. But let us not take this hard line for a moment.
It’s all very well to knock something down; it is at least courteous and professional to make an attempt to replace it.
The name ‘cyber wrangler’ will, quite likely, be dismissed as not serious. The Lad quite likes it as It does seem to have a certain ring to it; besides, he invented it. Trouble is; that ring seems to be like something from the Discworld of Terry Pratchett.
in the view of David Evans Membership Director of the British Computer Society [BCS], It helps when searching for an accepted name, to have a significant back history to survey and learn what one’s profession is about. He seems to be right. He tells a story showing a complete dichotomy of approaches.
In my first IT role during a year out before University, I remember vividly the MD of the company telling me we were Lloyd’s of London people first, IT people second – and he had a background as a claims manager and was a Lloyd’s name. We deliberately dressed, acted, spoke, and to some extent thought like our customers, while the companies such as ICL (who we were competing with very effectively) had people who deliberately identified themselves away from the customer – wearing Mickey Mouse ties and other things like that which almost offended their customers. Our customers treated us as partners and more like fellow human beings than they did other suppliers who they saw more as a necessary evil. Sure, we knew the technology, but what made us special was that we knew the business of our customers. I’d imagine that’s an experience shared by a lot of people in this sector.
David points out that, contrary to the IT workers, all engineers have a centuries-long list of role models. Amongst these Isambard, The Lad’s Master, is relatively recent in that long line. The dichotomy in the story that David told seems to be evidence of an accepted role model.
David goes on to say
[The Lad identifies himself] with an engineer born more than 200 years ago…and it is a positive, emotive identification and one I’d imagine is shared widely amongst engineers who otherwise might have little in common. What identity or figure unites the IT profession? It’s too early to tell.
He mentions as a possible role model Sir Maurice Wilkes. He, on the far right in the picture below, was supervising post-doctoral students as early as 1937. He played a part in much computer development throughout the latter half of the 20th Century; yet who died only in 2010 aged a mighty 97. He certainly influenced many people in IT over many decades.
The machine in the picture was a prototype, Meccano, analogue, Differential Analyser. This was only some 5 yrs before the first electronic machines were conceived and would consign the Analyser to oblivion. Or at least to that vale of mathematical oblivion that consists of a New Zealand Meccano club that has sought to rebuild the machine.
But then he goes on to say things that seem to be significant in terms of whether it is engineering. This is David again:
Some people may identify themselves as engineers to differentiate themselves from others they see as cowboys. Some IT people view themselves as hybrids – do they work in IT or in financial services, for example. … all I know is that people have differing views and seem to hold them for reasons linked to emotion as much if not more than a rationale.
I think for the average IT professional it is so much more about people and organisations. An over-focus on the technology can be a major encumbrance, because most of the issues we see are not to do with the technology. … For many IT people what they are doing is shaping their organisations, and shaping experiences. …
… They enable other professionals to have the right resources at the right point. For example, better use of information is one of the biggest opportunities in clinical practice – from research to safety to decision support. The legal profession will be radically altered by technology, enabling new business models and supply chains (it just hasn’t happened yet).
These aspects seem to be about making organisations work more efficiently through the use of IT. This is not engineering.
The Lad helped to create a small MS Access database application to reflect the existing Garden Design business tasks as it was carried it out. He had also been swept up in the rolling thunder of the introduction of an entirely new organisation in a global company to accept SAP. Two different projects indeed.
Where do we go from here?
The Lad was recently reading a fascinating book called Turing’s Cathedral – The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson. http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780718194505,00.html?strSrchSql=Turing/Turing’s_Cathedral_George_B._Dyson .
In the very earliest days of the USA side of computer development in 1944, some of the guys working on ENIAC were Eckert, Mauchly and Goldstine who all went on to great things in the industry that later developed. With them [according to Dyson’s book, p74] was “28 yr old Arthur Burks(a logician and philosopher turned electronic engineer for the duration of the war)” That was it! It struck me like a hammer-blow. That was exactly what the software design profession is: the profession is entirely that of practical or Applied Logic.
There it is. A descriptive title dating from the earliest IT days adopted, I believe, by one of the pioneers. The name has a fantastic pedigree where it could be used to describe the greatest ancient philosophers who rank with Newton and Einstein.
Software professionals: not engineers but Logicians. Is there any support for that name?
Let us draw this thing to an end as it is getting to sound too much like politicking. This is just what the tasks of engineering are not about. Good Lord! The Lad is almost regretting seeing the Eric Schmidt, Google speech. Almost.