[SIGCIS-Members] Programmer vs. coder vs. sofware developer vs. software engineer

Nathan Ensmenger nathan.ensmenger at gmail.com
Mon May 4 14:50:52 PDT 2020

Bill — I write quite a bit about the transition from coder —> programmer,
and about the attempt to organize around the concept of software
engineering in my book *The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers,
Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise.*   I agree that
titles matter.   Since most libraries are closed at the moment, I will send
you the most relevant chapters in a separate email.


Nathan Ensmenger
Chair, Informatics
School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering
Indiana University, Bloomington

On Mon, May 4, 2020 at 12:47 PM McMillan, William W <
william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu> wrote:

> Hello, SIGCIS folks.
> The ruminations below might have little scholarly importance, but I think
> the subject is interesting at least in regard to the culture of computing.
> What do we call people who design and implement computer programs?
> Nowadays, the term coder is used, maybe most often. My understanding is
> that this used to refer to the job of translating a detailed flow chart,
> which was created by a programmer, into an implementation language. I.e.,
> the coder was sort of like a human compiler who translated a detailed
> algorithm into a computer language like Fortran, Cobol, or assembly
> language. The coder didn't design algorithms.
> Later, the coder dropped out of the loop and a programmer implemented
> algorithms directly in a computer language (possibly after creating a flow
> chart or pseudo-code).
> The term software developer has been used, possibly implying that the job
> is broader than just programming, including gathering requirements,
> testing, and integration with existing systems.
> Starting in the late 1960s, the title software engineer became common. At
> least initially, this implied a very broad scope, as well as specialized
> training in requirements analysis, system design, programming style,
> verification and validation, risk assessment, maintenance techniques, UI
> design, and other aspects of software development. I believe that Texas
> even licenses professional engineers in software engineering, and a
> detailed curriculum has been defined:
> https://www.acm.org/binaries/content/assets/education/se2014.pdf
> The title software engineer implied that the person at least had a solid
> university course specifically in software engineering, as well as a good
> foundation in computer science or information systems.
> The term systems analyst sometimes implies a similar role, though it might
> mean something more akin to requirements analysis.
> Currently, anyone who writes computer programs might identify as a
> software engineer, even if he or she has no background beyond computer
> programming. Companies use the title willy-nilly. This inflates the
> prestige of the job, I suppose.
> At the same time, we call developers coders, which to me sounds like it
> deflates prestige.
> What professionals call themselves does matter. If a medical assistant
> calls himself a physician, the risks are obvious. If a physician (true
> software engineer) calls herself a technician (coder), then at least
> confusion results. Of course governments regulate the use of job titles in
> medical professions, while software development as it exists today is very
> libertarian.
> Has there been much consideration of the common use of job titles in the
> history of computing? Certainly there's been a lot of work in the history
> of software engineering, programming, systems analysis, etc., but I'm
> asking about the use and misuse of job titles by individuals and
> organizations.
> Thanks.
> Bill
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