Faking a CS degree will get you fired. Falsely claiming to be a software engineer will get you--wait, is that even possible?
10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over
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Scott Thompson was let go this week as CEO of Yahoo for falsely claiming to have earned a bachelor's degree in computer science. I need not rehash the events, which played out in the headlines for the last ten days, nor need I enter into the ethics of the matter. But I do have to chuckle at Thompson's choice of embellishment: A degree in computer science is probably the one credential in our field that is well defined and easily verified. Had he instead chosen to claim he was a computer scientist or a software engineer, no hedge fund manager could have ever ousted him for a false claim.
Actually, computer scientist, while still rather undefined, does suggest a course of study in computer science. If you look at the kinds of articles published by computer scientists, they tend to be academic papers explaining research in narrow niches. At least, that's what the field has evolved to. It might have made more sense for computer science to have evolved into the hardware engineering in computers. Edsger Dijkstra once observed, "Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." And he's exactly right--the name suggests a principal focus on the hardware, rather than on its actual calling: software.
While computer science is a poorly defined term, software engineering is not. Software engineering is accurately explained in Wikipedia as "the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation, and maintenance of software." As most of you know, it has come primarily to mean the study of quality in software. But in an odd historical quirk, "software engineer" is a title that, in the U.S., can be accorded to most any programmer. There is no formal standard, no certification needed, and in almost all cases the "engineer" need know absolutely nothing about software engineering.
A look through job postings for software engineers shows few openings (in fact, none to speak of) that require anything more than programming experience. The range of experience is more controlled by the word "senior" in the title than by the presence of "engineer." In the listings I examined, I found none--not a single one--that required experience in software engineering. As such, the title of "software engineer" is something of a conceit, a euphemism for someone with better than code-slinger skills. Or does it require even that?
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