How the growth of software engineering is like the Industrial Revolution

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Software-Engineering-Industrial-Revolution-500x328This is the second in a series of three articles examining how a disciplined approach can help maximize the value of software innovations.

Let’s consider the Industrial Revolution, a transformation to new manufacturing processes which lasted from 1760 to 1840, marking a turning point in history.

Almost every aspect of daily life was affected. Average income rose. Innovations sprung up at an incredible rate. The standard of living for the general population began to increase consistently. The transition included moving from hand production methods to automation, streamlining production processes and the rise of the factory system. Sound familiar?

It can be argued that today’s innovations and outcomes in software products and services are causing the same results in increased income, automation and streamlining of production. Social media, gaming, smartphones, data analytics, cloud platforms, cognitive computing using automatic software testing tools, agile techniques in producing software and the rise of software factories all serve as examples.

The revolution led to far more organization and licensing. The New Jersey Medical Society, chartered in 1766, was the first organization of medical professionals in the colonies. In 1763, Delaware created the first bar exam for professional lawyers. In 1887, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) became the national professional organization of CPAs in in the United States.

Software engineering, a much younger profession, has evolved from a conference catch phrase into an engineering profession (Software Engineering Body of Knowledge, IEEE version 3.0), yet few individuals are aware of the opportunity to become a licensed software professional. Others maybe avoid or ignore licensure so as not to be accountable, liable and responsible for upholding minimum standards in software projects that may not have achieved its desired outcome or service levels within tight times and budgets.

The Standish Group has reported that software projects miss schedule or budgetary goals 60 to 75 percent of the time. Software engineering has become a profession and discipline that has sparked a global opportunity to improve the outcomes of software projects. Licensing criteria can communicate minimum standards and best practices, as well as ensure people can perform at a minimum level of competency.

More importantly, ongoing educational requirements and ethical guidelines could provide a significant platform of both ethical and technical expectations, as seen in similar professions including medicine, law, accounting and other engineering disciplines.

Software products have become the glue integrating our world and impacting every individual. Software engineering has moved from isolated, artisanal boutiques into a vast network of interfaces, sensors, mobile phones, social media, unstructured data, enterprise applications, and community networks. Software engineering is more than just an art. It is becoming a discipline.

The software revolution resembles the Industrial Revolution. Author George Gilder has called today’s software cloud data centers “information factories.” The cloud can be viewed as representing the industrialization of IT. Many of the lessons learned in the evolution of manufacturing and the industrial revolution are being applied, consciously or not, via the cloud.

Industrial manufacturing, roadways, water systems, utilities, buildings, nuclear power, chemical products, etc., require discipline. Innovative software engineering requires discipline to respond quickly, increase quality and optimize resources. With the rapid growth of software innovations such as cloud, mobile, big data, Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence, discipline and structure will enable software engineers to create, connect and optimize systems to take full advantage of software inventions moving to pragmatic application and commercialization on a rapid and large scale.

Software engineering is no longer a marketing or sales term for imaging reasons, but a necessity to benefit and protect public safety, wealth, security and health.

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