Are You an Engineer or A Developer?
Swizec Teller

Sometimes titles really do matter.

I see what you describe as the difference between a journeyman-level and master craftsman or craftswoman.

A journeyman is fully competent at her craft (else she’d still be a student or apprentice), but lacks the experience and skills to take on the strategic challenges you assign to a software “engineer”. Smart and creative, but almost exclusively detail-focussed. And that’s respectable enough; there’s plenty of work to go around.

A master, on the other hand, not only has mastered the technical details of the software craft, but has the organisational skills (both project and political) needed to communicate with, and reassure, non-technical or less-technical stakeholders like Manager Bob. Bob isn’t an idiot for not doing the work himself; he likely has enough of a job herding the roomful of cats he’s protecting from the wrath and/or well-meaning cluelessness of people who understand them even less than he does. A master can help Bob do his job survivably by planning and credibly promising those action items. A journeyman, as you point out, has to wait to be told what to do in any non-detailed sense.

Why not call them engineers? Since the 1930s, in the United States and elsewhere, an engineer has been defined as a licensed professional sworn to and certified through systematic professional continuing education as upholding a public trust. An engineer builds things that the public uses, and accepts responsibility to ensure, to the best of his or her professional ability, that the public cannot come to harm through the use of that thing as designed and as reasonably foreseen as misused. I confidently and fearfully await the day when a Bhopal-, Chernobyl-, or even New London School-class disaster occurs whose root cause is clearly and unambiguously determined to be defective commercial (or “free”) software, and regulation becomes politically unavoidable. Wouldn’t it be far better if we got our own ducks in a row first, rather than wait until hysterical, media-frenzied politicians are handed the opportunity to roast them all?

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