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Should Software Engineers Be licensed?

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Introduction

Should Software Engineers Be licensed? History Since the disaster at Flixborough in 1974, the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the setting up of the Health and Safety Executive the systems and processes designers kept in mind the terrible consequences for their own failures. With the legal framework getting more stringent year by year, even for household goods under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, designers of hardware and software are looking to protect and insure themselves against the possibilities of litigation. Background The technology race combined with the small inexpensive microprocessor has made it such that our society is giving computer control to everything possible. As more control is being given to computers, it follows that the software driving these computers is more prevalent and controlling also. Software is being used increasingly in systems that affect public safety and software errors might lead to unacceptable losses. This has led to suggestions that software engineers working on safety-related systems should be more closely scrutinised. The very unique nature of software makes it difficult to completely understand, and even more difficult to visualize all the possible ways software can perform or fail to perform. Finding and eliminating the built-in unintended and undesired hazardous functions is the definitive goal of software safety. Intentions of this paper The EC has been involved in Heath and Safety issues since 1962, but this paper gives comment on whether its latest proposals of new directives are appropriate in the current environment of the software industry. ...read more.

Middle

* Personal characteristics, including personality traits, leadership ability, and communication skills Further thought could be given with regard to how these factors could be determined, but is likely to be through examination of the individuals Curriculum Vitae and letters of reference. This situation is already being implemented by invisible-hand style forces in the safety-related industry in the UK today, but there is only a tacit assumption that this is the case. Issuing a directive will aid in the enforcement of this significant factor. Chartered Status Chartered Engineers are inclined to be people with the background knowledge experience and professionalism the computing community would expect of a software engineer. However is not just software engineers that are involved in developing a safety-related system; there is a wide breadth of people concerned. The suggestion that all involved should be Chartered Engineers is an unreasonable notion as it would mean that in some cases achieving status becomes a more important priority than developing safe software. The first reason for this is that the time required to update the examinations does not match the rapid rate of technology change in safety-related software engineering. The examination would most likely be out of date most of the time unless the examination update cycle time could be reduced. Furthermore, Chartered Engineer status is valid for life. ...read more.

Conclusion

The challenge however, lies deeper than the ostensible regulation issue; what is needed is a cultural attitude change to safety. The apathy identified by Robens in 1970 is still present in our contemporary society and is not going to be solved by the introduction of an EC directive as human attitudes are notoriously hard to change. A comprehensive approach with many mechanisms to improve software coupled with a cultural attitude that values quality and instils individual responsibility is needed to ensure acceptable safety of software-intensive engineered systems. There are no simple and universal fixes that will solve the problem of ensuring public safety. A vigilant safety culture is what we must strive for. Appendix - The Sigmoid curve The curve describes the normal lifecycle of a period of learning or investment, in which inputs exceed outputs, followed by a steady growth that inevitably one days peaks and turns into decline. The only way to prolong the life of the body in question is to start a second curve. But to allow time and resources for the initial period of learning and investment, that second curve has to start before the first one peaks. Applying this to the safety-related software industry can show us that although investment in safety can seem to be a restrictive paradigm, thinking long term suggests that it is a worthwhile benefit. We can se that the only way to prolong the life of the industry is to start a second curve and begin investing into safety. ...read more.

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