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Conference Proceeding

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To what extent is “software engineering” really “engineering” as this term is commonly understood? A hallmark of the products of the traditional engineering disciplines is trustworthiness based on dependability. But in his keynote presentation at ICSE 2006 Barry Boehm pointed out that individuals’, systems’, and peoples’ dependency on software is becoming increasingly critical, yet that dependability is generally not the top priority for software intensive system producers. Continuing in an uncharacteristic pessimistic vein, Professor Boehm said that this situation will likely continue until a major software-induced system catastrophe similar in impact to the 9/11 World Trade Center catastrophe stimulates action toward establishing accountability for software dependability. He predicts that it is highly likely that such a software-induced catastrophe will occur between now and 2025.

It is widely understood that software, i.e., computer programs, are intrinsically different from traditionally engineered products, but in one aspect they are identical: the extent to which the well-being of individuals, organizations, and society in general increasingly depend on software. As wardens of the future through our mentoring of the next generation of software developers, we believe that it is our responsibility to at least address Professor Boehm’s predicted catastrophe.

Traditional engineering has, and continually addresses its social responsibility through the evolution of the education, practice, and professional certification/licensing of professional engineers. To be included in the fraternity of professional engineers, software engineering must do the same. To get a rough idea of where software engineering currently stands on some of these issues we conducted two surveys. Our main survey was sent to software engineering academics in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Among other items it sought detail information on their software engineering programs. Our auxiliary survey was sent to U.S. engineering institutions to get some idea about how software engineering programs compared with those in established engineering disciplines of Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering. Summaries of our findings can be found in the last two sections of our paper.


A. Frank Ackerman, Software Engineering Department, Montana Tech of the University of Montana; Sushil Acharya, Software Engineer Department, Robert Morris University.