In spite of common misperceptions, software engineers are not strapped to workstations slaving over code. Code may have been a central facet of software activity in past years, but that is changing as companies incorporate more software into their products to improve and differentiate them. Software engineers are moving from coding to design and from design to management.
A recent survey by the US Census Bureau, finds that many trained software engineers are using their advanced degrees to work their way directly into company management rather than taking part in coding and the creation of software and applications.
“Software engineers are involved in creative design work too, which is essential to develop new systems and apps. They decide what their client needs and design the software accordingly,” Ganapathi M, CEO, Agira Technologies, stated in a recent blog. “The software engineer will decide what software applications their clients should develop.”
Creating Products and Companies Based on Software
Software engineers have a great deal of input into how a product turns out. Coding takes a lot of critical and inventive thinking, and trial and error to devise the best solution. Those solutions may serve as the basis for a game-changing technology. As an example, product design and development company Cambridge Consultants’ most recent spin-off company, Evonetix, stems from collaboration between engineers and synthetic biologists on a small project that grew into a vision to transform biopharmaceutical and healthcare industries through intelligent design.
Cambridge Consultants employs 570 engineers. The company designs products in medtech, automation, and energy, as well as working in wireless and digital services. Colin Campbell, senior consultant at Cambridge Consultants, pointed out that software engineering has grown far beyond coding. “Software is a language, a way we express design. We use software to come up with solutions to intricate problems,” Campbell told Design News. “We use software platforms and methodologies for rapid prototyping. It’s not about the coding. The coding is the end part. Up front, you design the solution.”
Software engineers are getting called on to solve challenges with products and systems. This goes beyond coding and into product design and project management. “At Cambridge Consultants, we have a range of engineers. We’re not just a software shop. We do design, and we solve problems in a unique way,” Luke Graham, senior consultant and group leader at Cambridge Consultants told Design News. “I may be a software engineer, but I rely on all the other engineering disciplines.”
Software is Becoming a Larger Part of the Product
Part of the reason software engineers are being called to duties beyond coding is because software has become a more significant mix in products and services. “Software has become a larger and larger percentage of the product, both in terms of the number of people and the time spent,” said Graham. “Software also opens up the flexibility of a product. When there is more software, you can get market feedback and update the product or system over the air. That gives us the flexibility to meet changes in the market.”
As software becomes a more significant portion of a product, the mundane coding actually begins to diminish. Portions of the software in the product can be dropped in as blocks. “Some of the newer languages are taking away more and more of the handle turning. There are more blocks you can put together. That frees us up to do more creative stuff rather than just configuring device drivers,” said Graham. “It’s giving us more scope to do larger projects with smaller teams.”
If chunks of software can be dropped into new or updated products and systems, software engineers get to do more of the challenging work. “You don’t have to do as much assembly programming, and that frees you up from the mundane so you can focus on the more expressive elements, working more on solving problems,” said Campbell.
With software growing in its role in design and product development, the profession is always on the lookout for new or experienced talent. “We are growing fast and constantly looking for good engineers, so we’d love to hear from your readers,” said Graham.
EMERGING SOFTWARE INNOVATIONS. Learn about the latest software technologies and more at ESC Boston 2017, May 3-4, with the event's Embedded Software Design & Verification track. Join experts as they discuss software, as well as educational tracks on hardware, IoT/connected devices, and advanced technologies like AI and sensors that can give your designs a competitive edge. Register Today!
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.