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Ask Slashdot: Developer Or Software Engineer? Can It Influence Your Work? 333

ctrahey writes "Many of us disregard the impact of our titles on various aspects of our lives, both professional and otherwise. Perhaps it's appropriate to ask two questions about the difference between a couple titles familiar to the Slashdot community: Developer vs Software Engineer. What are the factors to consider in the appropriate use of the titles? And (more interesting to me), what influence might the use of these titles have on the written code? Have you observed a difference in attitudes, priorities, or outlooks in talent as a corollary to their titles?"
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Ask Slashdot: Developer Or Software Engineer? Can It Influence Your Work?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2012 @07:05PM (#41946007)

    It would only be illegal if there was a public certification. There is no legislative authority in college program accreditation, or in determining titles. As long as someone is not misrepresenting their resume, there is nothing illegal with any title. I could call an employee "King of England" if I wanted to.

  • by Concerned Onlooker ( 473481 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @07:31PM (#41946165) Homepage Journal

    I think I agree with you, but what if you have a degree in computer science? Is your title "Developer with a degree in Computer Science?" I don't think I could really call myself a computer scientist with a straight face, yet that is my degree.

  • by mdf356 ( 774923 ) <mdf356@gmai l . com> on Saturday November 10, 2012 @07:38PM (#41946215) Homepage

    Both places I've worked in my 11 years as a professional didn't really distinguish. I have a Computer Science and Engineering degree. I write and design software. I'm in the research and development arm (or the Engineering arm) of the company. It's several ways to say one thing.

    Yes, some distinctions can be drawn, like whether you interface with customers, who does the architecture or design, etc., but in general the people I work with are all over the software life cycle, from beginning to end. We do development (of software) and the official job title has always had "Engineer" and sometimes "Development" or "Software" in it.

  • Re:Engineer? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @07:51PM (#41946291)

    "Sadly, the answer is no to all of these. The person who cuts your hair has more certification than the person who writes pacemaker software."

    Yes, I have read about issues with pacemakers... but I've also had bad haircuts. Certification by the State is no guarantee that you will be good at your job.

  • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @08:06PM (#41946389)

    Professional Engineer is protected in the US too. But you don't see it much outside of government. A PE isn't very useful in private industries, it's too broad and to mgmt sounds like a union.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:46PM (#41946895)
    In Canada it is more than that. Canada is certificate crazy. People seem to need to seek some sort of validation. Academic snobbery is rampant. At least in the U.S. you can start post secondary education at a junior college/community college and transfer credits after two years and finish at a university. This is rare in Canada, and is only something that has started happening in any sort of way in the last 10 years, but it is still the exception rather than the rule. Most universities just say your community college schooling is junk thank you very much, sign up for four full years. I think it stems from the Napoleon Complex Canadians have with respect to the United States. They are always trying to say how as a people they are so much better. Always trying to validate themselves. So a piece of paper is just another piece of the pie in that regard. You're not considered qualified to wipe your own ass without a PMP certificate. And I agree that there are a ton of bodies out there that capitalize on this seeming insecurity by forming organizations that issue certificates for a huge fee.
  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:15PM (#41947003)

    You've made two different arguments, one of which is patently incorrect. The other, however, while possible, sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    First off, they are hardly separate domains. Software Engineering is merely one field within Computer Science, which is itself a rather broad field covering a number of different disciplines (e.g. artificial intelligence, interface design, networking, graphics, formal language development, etc.). You only need to read a handful of research papers in the field of Software Engineering before you'd be convinced of the same. It's just as science-based as the rest of Computer Science, just as theoretical, and just as full of lab ideas that don't actually work in the field. Plus, it's inseparable from other Computer Science fields such as programming language design, which dictate just which ideas are even possible. Granted, it's a bit of a misnomer to call it "Software Engineering", since it's actually more like "Software Design Science", but I didn't choose the name.

    Moving on, your core idea was that Software Engineers do not need a degree in Computer Science, but I just can't see how that would work. Playing my own Devil's Advocate for a bit, most "Computer Scientists" are actually engaging in applied Computer Science (i.e. programming/developing) rather than the pursuit of Computer Science (i.e. working in academia or an industry R&D lab). Similarly, most Software Engineers are engaging in applied Software Engineering, rather than pursuing the science of the field. Again, playing Devil's Advocate, I could see an argument for providing a curriculum more focused on the "what" and "how" (i.e. "here are what the tools are and how you use them") to the exclusion of the "why", somewhat analogous to what a two-year programming degree might offer. It teaches the tools but not the reasoning behind them.

    That said, I just can't imagine what cuts you would make so that it's no longer a Computer Science degree. You can't cut out programming from the Software Engineer's curriculum. If you did, you'd be effectively putting someone with no experience in a design position where experience REALLY counts. That works in traditional engineering fields where they can be shepherded by someone more experienced for several years. But software projects tend not to be large enough to justify paying for someone who can't pull their own weight once the programming needs to get done, let alone an experienced one and a newcomer. So unless you want to force them to program despite their lack of training in it, you will have to move them on before they get in the trenches to make the thing they've designed. As a result, they'll be entirely divorced from the feedback process that would influence future design ideas. As I said at the top, that sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

    So if you're going to be leaving in programming, what else would you cut from a typical Computer Science degree? At the time I was in grad school, our undergrad Computer Science department curriculum was revamped to have students choose a "branch" once they reached their upper level courses (i.e. the ones after intro programming, data structures, algorithms, etc.). One of those branches was Software Engineering, and, as you can guess, students who chose that branch would be taking a number of classes oriented around that topic. Even if there were a dedicated Software Engineering degree, I'm not sure how it would be functionally different from a Software Engineering oriented degree in Computer Science, like what my university already offers.

  • by gunnk ( 463227 ) <gunnk@mail.f[ ]unc.edu ['pg.' in gap]> on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:39PM (#41947087) Homepage

    Then again... the work I do is what universities currently consider "IT Systems Engineering". My work integrates Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, NetApp, VMware and Citrix platforms as well as covering security, development, data archiving, and a host of other tasks. My skills extend beyond those areas, but those are the ones I use in my day job.

    My degree, however, is physics.

    Well, that's typical of systems engineers/whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-call-us for those of us who remember 300 baud, FidoNet and (later) Bitnet email accounts. Ever typed an assembler into an Apple //c by hand from a magazine? No? GET OFF MY LAWN!

    When I started in IT there was NO SUCH THING as a degree in IT Systems Engineering. Does that mean I'm not an IT Systems Engineer? We don't have an official job title of "systems engineer". My job title is "Advanced Systems Specialist" at my workplace. There's not an official "Systems Engineer" title at all. Does that mean this HUGE university infrastructure was built without any engineers/engineering? Really?

    My point: I find there are plenty of people that have titles they are "allowed" to use but to which they fall far, far short. I also know brilliant people that run circles around those folks who have no "official" title (some have no degree at all). My feeling: use whatever title *actually* describes what you do and are capable of doing (and I'm sorry if the law prevents you from doing so where you live). Using a lesser title is selling yourself short. Using a greater title is setting yourself up for failure, firing, and ridicule.

    Be honest and accurate about your capabilities. No more. No less.

  • by durdur ( 252098 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @11:02PM (#41947185)

    I remember at one job I had to call up HR once and ask them what my title was. But it did gradually dawn on me that you don't want to be a title step lower than people who are equally or less skilled than you are. It does affect how others see you in the company and ultimately may affect your salary and promotion prospects, although I don't believe my own career has been derailed much by not caring.

The Force is what holds everything together. It has its dark side, and it has its light side. It's sort of like cosmic duct tape.