Software is everywhere, from cell phones to large banking systems. Software is not a marketable product anymore but an essential factor that embedded in the life of everybody and critical to the global economy. According to the latest economic report, software now is a trillion dollars business, bigger than any manufacturing or industry such as aerospace, car, machinery etc.

Software systems are some of the most complicated things humans have ever created. To design and build them, software engineers must to follow defined processes and procedures: First, the requirements need to be carefully defined. Then the architecture of the software system needs to be developed. Once the requirements and architecture are defined, one can begin code development. The code then needs verification, validation, and testing. In this process, the actual code development or programming is only a small portion of the entire process.

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Most people do not fully understand software engineering. Most students think they can do software after they learn the basics of Java or C++ syntax. They misunderstood software engineering with programming. This is like comparing an architect with a worker putting nails on a piece of wood to build a house. Many people can put nails on wood but without an architect, you can not build a house that will stand as architectural masterpieces. Many people can program, but few can develop large software masterpieces. For over 30 years as a Chief Engineer of a large company, I have heard people argue about computer languages, some believe that Java is better than C++ or C is better than Pascal. Often, they like the language that they are taught in school but most often they do not argue about the process that create the software product. The simple reason, many do not understand the process or like to follow a defined process. They just like to program as many worker just like to put nails on a piece of wood without thinking about the main reason of building a house. People who develop code without software engineering is nothing but a common worker and you do not need to go to school for several years to be just a simple worker.

Many students who graduate from universities will eventually work in some software companies. Because most of them do not get software education they will find it difficult to complete the assignments on time, within schedule and high quality. Unfortunately, the results will be a software product that may not meet what the customer needs and has a lot of defects. Last year, my friend need to hire 200 software people but he only found 12 people qualified to do the work because most failed the test – a simple test to build a software system. Most people did not understand the requirements, they never hear of the architecture phase of the development process. They failed because their schools did not teach them the fundamental of software engineering.

Software Engineering can be defined as the application of disciplined, quantifiable, systematic approach to the development, operation of software system. This is the most critical skills that business and industry need and very few places teach it. I really think it would be very beneficial for students to know more about software engineering before they graduate. It is also not valid to assume that computer science students can be software engineers. If you look closely into this curriculum, you will see that CS is mostly focus on programming languages with lot of theories on computer and mathematics. It should also be noted that it is difficult to teach software engineering because it requires a profound knowledge in business processes. To teach these, professors are required to work at least several years in the software industry and understand all components of a process.

The need for software engineering education is critical because there are great demands for this skill all over the world. Why such a shortage? Because today there are very few universities offer it. According to the latest report from U.S News and World Report magazine, The U.S has less than 100 universities that offer an accredited software engineering programs and there are less than 200 schools in the whole world that teach software engineering. That is why I really believe to take advantage of this trends we must start soon, since it takes many years for students to graduate. Unfortunately, change occurs extremely slowly in academia because there are few incentives to change. Most Professors are very comfortable with their current status and do not see reason to change the curriculum. Government are too busy with other issues and probably do not pay attention to something they may not understand. The only thing that I see is the market demand where industry leaders require a software engineering degree as a condition for hiring and it is happening in many countries right now.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University