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Re: licensing software engineers (was Re: [XP] IEEE SWEBOK Is Looking for Reviewers--They Don't Even Mention XP, Agile, etc.)

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  • Cem Kaner
    Let s check context --- IF we establish that software engineering is a licensable profession, THEN any company that makes life critical software would be
    Message 1 of 40 , Jun 1, 2003
      Let's check context --- IF we establish that software engineering is a
      licensable profession, THEN any company that makes life critical
      software would be foolish to not have a licensed software engineer
      signing off.

      That's a big IF.

      I happen to be a fan of professional licensing, and my sympathies are
      on the plaintiff's side of malpractice liability. WHEN there is
      malpractice, I like to see the malpractitioner get sued, disciplined,
      pay for it, and in the event of repeat malperformances, get summarily
      booted out of the profession. I'm not being sarcastic about this --
      personal accountability is important to me. I've even served as a
      full-time volunteer prosecutor in the Santa Clara County District
      Attorney's Office, putting my feelings about personal accountability
      into practice.

      I have two concerns about licensing software engineers:

      (a) Do we have a solid enough consensus in the field today to define
      the Standard of Care that a jury should evaluate a software engineer's
      performance against?

      (b) Is the set of materials (SWEBOK) that will be promoted as the
      statement of that Standard of Care a reasonable description of what I
      understand as good software engineering practice?

      Regarding (a), this is a vital issue because this is the basis both of
      licensing and of malpractice litigation. There has never been a
      successful suit for pure software engineering malpractice. (There have
      been successful software-related malpractice suits against accountants
      and other licensed professionals, but not yet against software
      engineers per se.) The reason that there has never been a successful
      suit is that the law does not yet recognize us as a profession. Only
      professionals can be sued for malpractice (professional negligence).

      If we convince politicians to declare software engineering a profession
      but don't have a sufficient consensus, then we create a litigation
      lottery. Dissatisfied clients will be able to sue for malpractice, but
      the jury will get essentially random guidance from the expert witnesses
      who testify at trial about appropriate engineering practice.

      In my view, this would be a disaster for the developing profession.
      Ultimately, standards of care WOULD be established. But they would be
      established in litigation. By judges, juries, lawyers and insurance
      companies.

      It is impossible to predict what standards would come out of a process
      like this.

      I look forward to a time when we do license software engineers. I think
      we'll appropriately hit that time about 20 years from now. Let's not
      make the mistake of rushing into it today.

      Regarding (b), SWEBOK reflects a collection of practices that have been
      successfully promoted to DoD and several other government agencies.
      They have credibility, they have a big fan club, there is a lot of
      money being made doing business with DoD (etc.) under these
      practices/standards, they are not going away any time soon. If our
      field adopts a Standard of Care in the next few years, it will look a
      lot like SWEBOK.

      I think SWEBOK promotes a set of practices that are sometimes
      appropriate, but in many contexts thay are as outrageously expensive as
      they are remarkably ineffective. The idea of adopting these as a
      standard of care for our profession, is, at least to me, abhorrent.

      -- cem kaner



      On Sunday, June 1, 2003, at 01:39 PM, Dan Rawsthorne wrote:

      > Cem Kaner said:
      >> I agree that a company that made
      >> life-critical software would be foolish to not have a licensed
      > engineer
      >> as overseer. But for commercial software -- unless there is a
      >> regulation or law that I am unaware of -- no such legal requirement
      >> exists.
      >
      > Cem is correct. Furthermore, life-critical software that is currently
      > being built *is* signed off on by a professional engineer. This
      > engineer
      > is often an EE who claims proficiency in software.
      >
      > Since there need to be professional engineers that sign off on
      > software,
      > I would prefer that they be software professionals, wouldn't you? They
      > would have a better chance of recognizing why agility works, or what
      > lessons patterns teach us, and so on.
      Cem Kaner, Professor, Department of Computer Sciences,
      Florida Institute of Technology, 150 West University Blvd.
      Melbourne, FL 32901.
      Senior author of
      Lessons Learned in Software Testing
      Testing Computer Software, and
      Bad Software: What to Do When Software Fails.
    • Brian Christopher Robinson
      ... With the licensed software engineer held accountable? This would be a HUGE change. For instance, as the team lead on a project I certainly would not
      Message 40 of 40 , Jun 2, 2003
        On Sat, 31 May 2003, Cem Kaner wrote:

        > As to the practices that will be required on "licensed" jobs, I think
        > SWEBOK lays out the baseline. A lawsuit for professional negligence
        > asserts that an individual service provider failed to provide services
        > that conform to the accepted minimum standard of competence in the
        > profession.

        With the licensed software engineer held accountable? This would be a
        HUGE change. For instance, as the team lead on a project I certainly
        would not allow the project to be shipped by my manager despite known
        bugs. This is a common enough practice that it strikes true fear into
        me.
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