Engineering and Software Engineering
The Future of Software Engineering
The phrase 'software engineering' has many meanings. One central meaning is the reliable development of dependable computer-based systems, especially those for critical applications. This is not a solved problem. Failures in software development have played a large part in many fatalities and in huge economic losses. While some of these failures may be attributable to programming errors in the narrowest sense-a program's failure to satisfy a given formal specification-there is good reason to
... nk that most of them have other roots. These roots are located in the problem of software engineering rather than in the problem of program correctness. The famous 1968 conference was motivated by the belief that software development should be based on "the types of theoretical foundations and practical disciplines that are traditional in the established branches of engineering." Yet after forty years of currency the phrase 'software engineering' still denotes no more than a vague and largely unfulfilled aspiration. Two major causes of this disappointment are immediately clear. First, too many areas of software development are inadequately specialised, and consequently have not developed the repertoires of normal designs that are the indispensable basis of reliable engineering success. Second, the relationship between structural design and formal analytical techniques for software has rarely been one of fruitful synergy: too often it has defined a boundary between competing dogmas, at which mutual distrust and incomprehension deprive both sides of advantages that should be within their grasp. This paper discusses these causes and their effects. Whether the common practice of software development will eventually satisfy the broad aspiration of 1968 is hard to predict; but an understanding of past failure is surely a prerequisite of future success.