26 January, 2009

Software Engineering: There's nothing like it!


Seriously, there's no other type of engineering like software engineering. And that, may or may not be a good thing: it just depends on what you decide to focus on.

I went to school in the same building where the mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, and civil engineers went to school - yes, I spent almost every waking hour of my college life in the infamous Clyde Building:

Yes, for those of you that are wondering, that building has no windows. I'm pretty sure they designed it that way so that your soul would be crushed within the first semester of your career. But that's beside the point: You want to know what I learned in 4 years as an EE at BYU? Well, for the most part, I learned a whole bunch of math... oh yea, and I also learned that writing software isn't like making bridges, roads or "stuff".

And here's why software enginnering is so different: software is cheap to make (Yeah, that's right; even though you think you're making big bucks by writing software, you're still cheap compared to what goes into creating a new car design). Oh, and there's something else: writing software is much harder than building bridges.

Software is hard

See, we can't really prove software will "work". Proving that a program will work according to the specs is pretty much a halting problem - that is, given a program and a finite input set, we can't even prove whether the program will even terminate!

Civil engineers, on the other hand have it easy: given a bridge and environment conditions (load, winds, etc.), they can tell you whether the bridge will stand or not. In fact, it's so easy to "model" bridges that we software engineers have written programs to tell you whether you've built a good bridge or not.

Software is also harder because as long as the program "works", it doesn't matter what the source code may look like. Sure, some code may be harder to maintain than other, but how do you tell? There's no metrics for code design; we only have smells.

Software is cheap

Let's not move on to why software is cheap. If you write a program that doesn't work according to specs, it's not a big deal: you just go back to Notepad, change a little bit of text and (perhaps) recompile. Even software distribution is cheap: when was the last time you got software in a CD? We could spend a lot of time and effort finding bugs and/or proving our program works correctly, but why would we do that? After some point, it really doesn't make sense to spend money finding and solving bugs that may never surface in normal use.

On the other hand, if you screw the pooch on a bridge you're toast: it's hard to fix, and it was really expensive to build (not to mention how much time it actually take to build). This is why civil engineers, plan, model, test and then finally, after a really long time, build. We just build because it's fast to build. How awesome is that?!


Now you know why you're much better than all those other engineers out there. So go rub it in their faces whenever you feel like it. :p


Mike Murray said...

Long live the Talmage buidling!

The only part of the Clyde building that I liked was that front lobby area that was great for studying and the only windows in the whole building.

Post a Comment