The Elusive Dream of Software Engineering

Martyn Thomas CBE

Vice President (External Affairs) Royal Academy of Engineering

Programming is easy, and the consequences are everywhere to be seen. During my working life (which has already lasted for most of the time that programmable computers have existed) software has transformed almost everything we do. Decade after decade, exponential improvements in hardware price/performance have driven software into anywhere that seemed likely to be profitable, interesting, mischievious or just good fun. Most of this software doesn't matter much, which is fortunate because almost none of it has been engineered.

Engineers create things to carry out some useful purpose. Creating software can be a particularly complex engineering task but software developers mostly work in ways that would be anathema to most engineers and most software projects take longer, cost more and deliver lower quality than they need to.

This talk explores some of the reasons why the past 50 years have made so little progress in software engineering, suggests how we could recognise a software engineering profession that deserved that title, if it were ever to exist, and what could be done to help it to happen.

About Martyn Thomas CBE

Martyn Thomas is an independent consultant systems engineer. He specialises in strategy, innovation and the procurement, acquisition and assessment of safety-critical or security-critical, software intensive systems.Martyn works extensively with universities and Government: his recent appointments include Visiting Professor in Software Engineering at the Universities of Oxford , Aberystwyth and Bristol, Member of the Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC) and non-executive Director of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), of the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) and of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIAHE). He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by the universities of Hull and Edinburgh and City University, London. In 2007 he was appointed CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for services to software engineering.Martyn Thomas is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). He is Vice President (External Affairs) of the Royal Academy of Engineering and chairs the IET’s IT Policy Panel.

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