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Not really. Or at least not in most engineering fields.

  1. Engineers have to work within the constraints of the materials available,

    These days, in many fields of engineering, we have reached the point where we engineer the materials to suit the application.

    For example, we can choose from a vast range of types of steel. Or use aluminium, magnesium alloys, titanium, carbon composite or any of a vast range of plastics.

    And whilst there will be some variations in the strength, hardness and other properties of these materials, generally these are accounted for using pessimistic Safe Working Load (SWL) margins and quality control using automated processes.

    By contrast, the carpenter has to individually inspect each 2x4 to check for the presence of knots or insect damage that can seriously degrade the performance.

    In a few situations, the programmer has the luxury of specifying the format of raw materials (input files etc.), but more often than not he has to accept an existing format (XML, FASTA, jpg) regardless that it may be entirely inconvenient for this particular application. Further more, he cannot specify or predict the quality of the data.

  2. they have use the available skills and knowledge,

    These days, it is possible and very common place for non-experts to design components, and have software that converts those designs into CAD/CAM instructions that can be fed directly to automated machinery that manufactures it.

    You can even do this via the internet! You download a free CAD package; create a drawing of the part you need; view it in 3D; specify the material (steel, brass, aluminium, plastic), Get a price estimate with one-click. Order it with another.

    Imagine being able to do that for software?

  3. they are not machines,

    Actually, mostly they are machines. When I was doing my apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer 30 years ago, the production line for the average family car involved tens of thousands skilled & semi-skilled workers. Today, the same production line is run by a couple of hundred workers, mostly machine minders, logistics staff (who keeps the robots fed with parts), maintenance and quality control people. The rest is done by robots.

    In other fields of engineering it is pretty much the same story.

    Civil Engineering: Whether building a bridge or an office block or a ship, much of the raw materials and sub component assemblies are manufactured by automated machinery.

    Electronic engineering: Electrical & Electronic components are produced in huge clean-room factories with environmentally controlled atmostpheres tailored to the needs of the machines and processes, not the occasional human inspectors who have to go through decontamination processes and wear protective suits to enter.

    Chemical Engineering: Beyond the research labs, the processes involved are conducted in huge plants of tanks, pipes, reaction chambers and refraction stills. Monitored and controlled by computers. With the only human beings present being maintainance crews.

  4. and mass production helps but isn't a cure-all.

    30 years ago, the final finishing of car bodies was done by hand, 'wiping' the joints using molten lead. The paint was applied by a human sprayer. The final finish was inspected by a man with a bright light and a magnifying glass. Now all these processes have either been designed away, or are fulfilled by computer controlled robots.

    The only thing in software that is anything like mass production right now is the production of distribution media.

Before software production can be called an engineering discipline, similar levels of automation will have to ensue. And it is already possible to some level.

Take the vast majority of commercial webs sites. They have a database of things; those things have attributes and a price; the user needs to be presented with those attributes and given a means to search, select and compare them. Once their choices are made, the prices needs to be accumulated, their delivery and payment details collected, payment arranged and verified. Delivery arranged and tracked. E-bay, Amazon and GoogleShopping have already automated most of this.

The same can be done with most other types of website. Facebook et al. mean that there is no need for most people to program their own 'homepage' anymore. With Google:Blogger|Groups|YouTube|Gmail|Calander|Docs, and their competitors, the question becomes what to share, not how.

With the advent of the Google browser and the Google Web Toolkit, how long before designing a new website for just about any purpose becomes a point'n'click, drag'n'drop affair that takes care of the DB schema, scalability, validation, authorisation etc. and just leaves the 'programmer' to decide what questions need to be asked in what order and what pretty pictures and fonts to use?

There will be some hold outs. The banks will continue to design their own, usually awful applications. The big traditional retailers will continue to have in-house software development teams. In the same way they continue to have their own trucking fleets, even though it would make economic sense and be greener to have a single distribution network for all of them. What sense does it make to have all the big supermarket chains sending their own trucks to each of the producers of breakfast cereals, to pick up the same produce?

Software production will become an engineering discipline, but it isn't even vaguely one yet. And most of the so-called software engineering processes, are as akin to modern engineering processes in other fields, as the blacksmith shoeing a horse.

Examine what is said, not who speaks -- Silence betokens consent -- Love the truth but pardon error.
"Science is about questioning the status quo. Questioning authority".
In the absence of evidence, opinion is indistinguishable from prejudice.

In reply to Re^3: Programming is more like: by BrowserUk
in thread Programming is more like: by Arunbear

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