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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.

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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

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