What Should the Software Industry be Known For?

I was talking with my friend Marc today. He’s a mechanical engineer (and a damn good one) and we were talking about work. He said something that kind of surprised me:

“Sometimes I wish mechanical engineering companies were more like software companies.”

All through school, and even in the workplace, I’ve heard software engineering compared to traditional engineering.

“You don’t build half a bridge, then change your mind about how it’s going to look.”

“It’s a green-field project.”

“Well, the way they estimate construction projects is like this…”

I’ve always thought other engineering disciplines had all these lessons we could learn in software, given that building software wasn’t recognized as engineering until about 1960*. It’s never once occurred to me that what we do in software could help the guys building cars, or skyscrapers, or in Marc’s case, bomb suits.

This begs the question:

What do we want other industries to say about software engineering?

If you could teach one lesson you’ve learned in software to another discipline, what would it be? What would be the top, absolutely most-important anecdote you could recite? Or inscribe on a statue of a programming icon?

Marc said it was how people are managed. The offices, the lax environment, the 20% time.

I think it’s how we integrate teams. I love working closely with designers, and I bet other engineering fields could really benefit from the software designer/developer relationship, and how it has evolved over the past decade.

Your turn.

What should the software industry be known for?

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2 Responses to “What Should the Software Industry be Known For?”

  1. Francis Beaudet Says:

    I found your question really compelling and then I was stumped. That is a hard question.

    I think that what I like the most about this industry is how you can keep learning something new throughout your career. A specific programmer can acquire multiple specialties over the course of a career.

    How it is normal to assign a programmer to an iOS project even if he’s never touched an iPad in his life.

    Close second is the whole open-source thing. I don’t understand how other industries could do that. Open-source is pretty awesome.

  2. dan Says:

    It’s true, it is pretty weird that we can just up and learn something completely new and nobody bats an eye. That’s not an obvious one to think of, I like it a lot.

    Open-source is another good one, though I’m not sure why that didn’t occur to me. It seems like that would be a go-to answer, especially since I used at least half a dozen open-source frameworks or products today.

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