Andrew Pollack's Blog

Technology, Family, Entertainment, Politics, and Random Noise

Is a 'System Engineer' really an Engineer?

By Andrew Pollack on 08/01/2007 at 10:59 PM EDT

Do you call yourself a "Software Engineer" or maybe a "System Engineer"? What happens when the stuff you "Design" doesn't work? A network goes down? Maybe a few users don't get their email? Today we see a reminder of what happens when an ACTUAL engineer gets things wrong. Maybe you really want to rethink using that word unless you're up to doing the math that would have prevented this.

There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Is a 'System Engineer' really an Engineer?By Dwight Wilbanks on 08/02/2007 at 12:23 AM EDT
I'm and Engineer in the same way that a Sanitation Engineer is really an
re: Is a 'System Engineer' really an Engineer?By Thomas Krier on 08/02/2007 at 01:47 AM EDT
I remember when the term "Engineer" meant something. As an EE major in
communications I was happy not to have to take on the liability that civil,
mechanical and power (electrical) engineers had to deal with, but I did become
a PE (Professional Engineer), and kept that designation for quite awhile. If
this disaster was due to a design deficiency (as opposed to a maintenance
issue, or something else) the responsible Engineer(s) will be in some pretty
hot water.
re: Is a 'System Engineer' really an Engineer?By Bruce Perry on 08/03/2007 at 11:38 AM EDT
I take your point, but to get the kind of jobs I want (and am qualified for, I
hasten to add), I'm more or less forced to call myself a Software Engineer.

I'd be happy with the title of Programmer, but that triggers the off switches
in various HR bots.

I wonder how many people out there would really qualify as actual Software
Engineers? My guess is that there are very few compared to the number of EE,
ME, or CE.
re: Is a 'System Engineer' really an Engineer?By Denis Page on 08/04/2007 at 06:58 PM EDT
First, we don't know whether the horrible disaster in Minnesota had anything to
do with "design" failure. It's way to early to start casting blame on the

Second,it seems silly to base the definition of a job title on the consequences
of design failure.

Third, if an embedded software design failure was responsible for a aircraft
disaster, could the designer then use the title Software Engineer?
All fair questions, let me try to take them on.By Andrew Pollack on 08/05/2007 at 07:06 PM EDT
First - In this case, yes. Its too early to tell of course. I was using this
incident as the starting point for the more general discussion. To be specific
about THIS bridge, the design is a proven one and in use on thousands of
bridges in the U.S. If an engineer is ultimately implicated it will be in some
capacity of inspection and review -- which is no doubt very difficult.

Second - Again, consider the possibility of some abstraction of thought. The
specific term "Engineer" has (or had) real meaning. The implication is one of
intense study and decisions based on the conservative application of tested

Third - We get to the key point I'm making. Calling yourself an "Engineer" is
meant to have weight. In the software trade, we want that gravitas but don't
consider or accept the responsibility that an actual engineer must.

Any loss of life like this is tragic, but to answer your plane crash question
more directly; if you were writing software to be used on an aircraft you would
be working for actual engineers, be responsible to engineers, and your software
designs would be vetted -- line by line and through test after test -- by

Other Recent Stories...

  1. 09/04/2018With two big projects on hold, I suddenly find myself very available for new short and long term projects. In twenty five years, I don't think I've ever written an entry like this, but if you need the kind of work I do now would be a great time to get in touch. Both of the big projects I had lined up for late summer and early fall have been placed on hold and will be that way for a while. With the kids now all off at college and careers, I'm open to more travel than such than I have been in decades, but unless something else comes along, I'll be here working on updates to Second Signal and other things that ...... 
  2. 07/13/2018Who is HCL and why is it a good thing that they are now the ones behind Notes and Domino?We need to address some biases here. IBM has made a deal under which the Notes & Domino software and intellectual property is now being developed and maintained by HCL America. HCL America is part of the very large "HCL Technologies" company that has grown from its roots in India to become an 8 Billion Dollar company with a global presence in the IT Industry. You could be excused for initially believing, as many people do when they hear this, that "they've outsourced the code to India where they'll milk it ...... 
  3. 03/21/2018Domino Apps on IOS is a Game Changer. Quit holding back.BOOM. This will be as important for the platform as Traveler. If your company has ditched Notes and Domino, I feel sorry for you. For companies that do use Notes/Domino this is a game changer and Apple should be paying attention. Here's why: There are hundreds of little Notes client applications you'd never spend the time and money to build and deploy for your internal user base on IOS that we use Notes for all the time (those of us still using it). Now, those are suddenly ALL available on the iPad. ...... 
  4. 02/15/2018Andrew’s Proposed Gun Laws 
  5. 05/05/2016Is the growing social-sourced economy the modern back door into socialism? 
  6. 04/20/2016Want to be whitelisted? Here are some sensible rules for web site advertising 
  7. 12/30/2015Fantastic new series on Syfy called “The Expanse” – for people who love traditional science fiction 
  8. 10/20/2015My suggestion is to stay away from PayAnywhere(dot)com  
  9. 08/07/2015Here is one for you VMWARE gurus - particularly if you run ESXi without fancy drive arrays 
  10. 08/06/2015The Killer of Orphans (Orphan Documents) 
Click here for more articles.....

pen icon Comment Entry
Your Name
*Your Email
* Your email address is required, but not displayed.
Your thoughts....
Remember Me  

Please wait while your document is saved.