Who are you calling a software engineer?

Almost three years after a landmark court case, software engineers are still in limbo as to whether they can retain their titles.

In Sept. 1999 a panel comprising members of the Canadian Information Processing Society and the

Canadian Council of Professional Engineers was formed to reconcile a lawsuit brought by the CCPE against Memorial University of Newfoundland. The CCPE took issue with the university using the term “”software engineer”” in a bachelor of science program that was not part of the engineering department. The school has since abandoned the term, but the CCPE still disputes its use as a designation for industry professionals that do not hold engineering accreditation recognized by the CCPE.

Last month, the CIPS board of directors approved a position paper outlining the ongoing dispute and its potential detriment to the software industry. CIPS issued a press release this week to raise awareness among industry professionals.

“”One of the other things they’re (the CCPE) attempting to do is define a very narrow view of what software engineering means,”” said Karen Lopez, director of professional standards for CIPS.

“”The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers believes that you need to have a traditional engineering degree, as well as expertise in software. The rest of the world believes that it means that you have training that is computing-based . . . and a lot of expertise in software. . . . We don’t want the Canadian economy to have to deal with a term of software engineering, a discipline of computer science, that’s in conflict with the rest of the world,”” she said.

Marie Lemay, CEO of the CCPE, maintains the organization and its provincial associations are simply upholding their mandate to ensure that all professionals who call themselves engineers are properly licensed and certified for the good of the public.

The CCPE has taken steps to prevent the use of the term. Last summer, the organization met with Microsoft Canada asking the company to suspend the use of its Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer designation. “”There was some discussion with the CCPE with respect to the term engineer and its use in Canada,”” said Microsoft Canada training and certification manager Patricia Meta. Microsoft agreed to take steps and sent out letters to its MCSE-certified professionals urging them to use the acronym rather than spelling it out, thereby avoiding actual use of the word ‘engineer.’ “”The letters were sent out to the MCSE population just as more or less an interim solution . . . so we could do some research and fact finding, I guess about the term engineer,”” said Meta.

One letter recipient, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed concern that if the designation changes its name it will carry less weight in the industry. He had held an MCSE for six years. “”That designation, the work that I’ve put in for it, would lose its meaning,”” he said. “”The other issue that I personally have with this, is this a Canada-only thing. Everywhere else in the world, this designation means something. So if I try to apply for a job in the States or somewhere else . . . What would I do, just change it on my resume? It’s a little, frankly, stupid.””

He also holds a Professional Server Expert designation from IBM and an Accredited Systems Engineer from Compaq. He hasn’t been asked to change the latter, but said that could be because Compaq doesn’t even exist anymore as a result of the HP merger. Other MCSEs he knows have adopted the term Microsoft Certified Systems Expert to avoid any conflict, he said.

That directive didn’t come from Microsoft Canada, said Meta, who added that the company hasn’t determined a final course of action yet, but will be doing something shortly pending research in Canada and other parts of the world.

“”It’s just a name,”” said Lemay. “”Why not call it software expert, software developer, software whatever? That way it will help the people graduating not to have to face the associations that have the obligation to go after them.””

“”The key thing is, it’s not just about the name,”” countered Lopez. Changing the name would only be a stopgap measure, she said. “”It’s not going to solve the bigger problem of the fact that designing architecting, and developing software is something that requires all kinds of skills, not just traditional engineering skills. It would also leave Canada with a uniquely Canadian name for something that the rest of the world calls software engineering.””

The Memorial University court case called for the panel to resolve the issue within five years, or by 2004. At the moment, CIPS and the CCPE are still deadlocked. Lopez said the CCPE refuses to return to the table to talk about it; Lemay said she has endorsed the panel’s recommendations but CIPS is still holding out.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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