SATURN 2015 Keynote: Progress Toward an Engineering Discipline of Software (Session Notes)

Mary Shaw, Carnegie Mellon University

by Jacob Tate, Mount St. Mary’s University

The SATURN 2015 Conference is underway, and what a great start! As the largest SATURN Conference to date with over 200 attendees, you can feel the excitement and buzz of the people who traveled from all over the globe to attend. It kicked off yesterday with a few special sessions and classes, but more notably with the introductions and the first keynote speaker this morning. Mary Shaw gave a fast-paced lecture on the progress of engineering in terms of the software discipline. She explored the question “Is software engineering really engineering?” and systematically explained the various definitions of engineering, such as “creating cost-effective solutions to practical problems by applying codified knowledge and building things in the service of mankind.”

To answer the main question in her presentation, Dr. Shaw explained each part of this definition in terms of the history behind civil engineering, specifically the engineering of bridges. It took from the 1st century to the 19th century before bridges were fully examined and understood mathematically by engineers who then used this knowledge to improve the quality for the betterment of the people using them. The introduction of new technologies both helped and hindered bridge engineering, and it was a long road to developing successful best practices.

This process of civil engineering parallels nicely with the development of software engineering, if we are indeed calling it that. From the 1960s to the present, software has gone through rigorous changes, documentations, publications, and implementations to evolve from production and commerce, to merge with science, and to form a sort of quasi-engineering discipline. Dr. Shaw emphasized that software ought to be engineering, but still needs some work as a discipline. She cited the maturation of scientific ideas from the 1980s through the present as the foundation for the software engineering discipline, and ended by giving suggestions for the direction we should be moving in. Through thorough documentation and rigorous creation of architectural and engineering best practices, software development as a discipline can truly earn the title “software engineering.”

Make sure to follow the conference on Twitter @SATURN_news with the hashtag #SATURN2015.

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