Recognizing Engineer’s Spirit & Contribution to Society: A Tribute to Software Engineers

The story is often told that when Steve Jobs recruited John Scully from Pepsi to Apple he asked if he wanted to “sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” Do engineers change the world?

Engineer, in this context, is broadly defined as someone who builds new technology. (Not, as one company in England said a few years ago, a man who will come and retune your television set.) This is perhaps a broader definition than that current in, for example, Germany, where the title engineer is reserved to a qualified professional who has some form of regulatory or statutory recognition.

The world is becoming a place in which the human population (which now numbers more than six billion) is becoming more crowded, more consuming, more polluting, more connected, and in many ways less diverse than at any time in history. There is a growing recognition that humans are altering the Earth’s natural systems at all scales, from local to global, at an unprecedented rate, changes that can only be compared to events that marked the great transitions in the geobiological eras of Earth’s history.


Why Modern Life Depends On Engineers?

Engineering is behind everything – from mobile phones and make-up to the car you travel in and the shoes on your feet. Engineering makes up an exciting range of businesses and industries, including construction, transport, cosmetics, medicine, food, fashion and much more.

Engineers work in all kinds of environments, from offices, laboratories and film studios to outdoors and underground. Engineering today is closely linked with technology, and plays a major role in many technological devices and advances – thanks to engineers, this magazine was produced on a highly sophisticated printing machine that is capable of running off thousands of copies an hour. That’s just one example of how an engineer has affected your life today.

Most young people are unaware of the variety engineering offers. More efforts need to be made so that 12- to 16-year-olds learn about life as an engineer. Big companies are the first to admit that they haven’t done enough to tell young students what engineering is all about. Only 11% of 12- to 16-year-olds know what engineers do.  And only 17% agreed with the statement “I have seen/heard more about the engineering industry over the past year” when they were asked. Too many 12- to 16-year-olds think engineering is about getting their hands dirty – and to some degree they are right, because there are jobs that will allow you to do that if you want to.

But engineering encompasses a whole range of industries that might include on-site visits and practical construction work, or it might mean evaluating safety systems from the comfort of your office. Software engineers – who might work from home – are no more likely to get their hands dirty than bank managers.


Recognizing the Extraordinary Contributions of Engineering

Average citizens probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how engineering has changed their lives. Yet, society’s transformation in only the last 100 years because of engineering is nothing short of stunning. In 1900, the world was not electrified; the airplane had just made its first flight; Ford had just opened his assembly line making cars affordable; few people had phones; the average life span was 46 — mostly due to unclean water and poor sanitation; radio, television, computers and the Internet did not exist — and the list goes on.

The contributions of engineers to society are not slowing down. Indeed, the pace of technological innovation and its impact seems to be increasing — the penetration that took the radio 60 years to achieve was accomplished in 10 by the World Wide Web.


Top 20 Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century

20 engineering achievements that have had the greatest impact on quality of life in the 20th century were selected and ranked by a distinguished panel of the world’s top engineers. Here is the complete list of achievements.

  1. Electrification – the vast networks of electricity that power the developed world.
  2. Automobile – revolutionary manufacturing practices made the automobile the world’s major mode of transportation by making cars more reliable and affordable to the masses.
  3. Airplane – flying made the world accessible, spurring globalization on a grand scale.
  4. Safe and Abundant Water – preventing the spread of disease, increasing life expectancy.
  5. Electronics – vacuum tubes and, later, transistors that underlie nearly all modern life.
  6. Radio and Television – dramatically changed the way the world received information and entertainment.
  7. Agricultural Mechanization – leading to a vastly larger, safer, less costly food supply.
  8. Computers – the heart of the numerous operations and systems that impact our lives.
  9. Telephone – changing the way the world communicates personally and in business.
  10. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration – beyond convenience, it extends the shelf life of food and medicines, protects electronics, and plays an important role in health care delivery.
  11. Interstate Highways – 44,000 miles of U.S. highway allowing goods distribution and personal access.
  12. Space Exploration – going to outer space vastly expanded humanity’s horizons and introduced 60,000 new products on Earth.
  13. Internet – a global communications and information system of unparalleled access.
  14. Imaging Technologies – revolutionized medical diagnostics.
  15. Household Appliances – eliminated strenuous, laborious tasks, especially for women.
  16. Health Technologies – mass production of antibiotics and artificial implants led to vast health improvements.
  17. Petroleum and Gas Technologies – the fuels that energized the 20th century.
  18. Laser and Fiber Optics – applications are wide and varied, including almost simultaneous worldwide communications, non-invasive surgery, and point-of-sale scanners.
  19. Nuclear Technologies – from splitting the atom, we gained a new source of electric power.
  20. High Performance Materials – higher quality, lighter, stronger, and more adaptable.


How Software Engineers Can Change The World?

Software engineers already have changed the world though improving connectivity, automating repetitive tasks and writing software that has changed, fundamentally, the music industry.

This is not just software engineers changing the world; this is technology in general making it possible to build sustainable programs that will lift people out of poverty. The point is that engineers are part of this. They’ve developed custom applications in order to process the huge amounts of data they go though – i.e. if you scan lots of documents in a series, you have to work out where each individual document begins and ends. The documents all need to be tagged as well, and have the title extracted.

Software engineers can also have higher innovation rates because they aren’t tied to the physical world. Their only constraint is time. Other areas are more limited by materials and manpower


Opportunities for Software Engineers

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for software engineers in 2010 was $90,530 per year. And the demand for software engineers is on the rise, with an estimated growth rate of 30% between 2010 and 2020–more than double the 14% average growth rate for all occupations.

But great pay and plentiful job opportunities aren’t the only aspects of what makes the role of software engineer an enviable IT position. The collaboration, creative thinking, and hands-on experimentation required of software engineers can lead to an ever-evolving career path.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed software engineers has grown more than 25 percent in the past decade, from 745,000 in 2001 to 1,206,000 in 2010. The earning potential for software engineers is also strong, with both computer systems and applications software engineers averaging more than $90,000 in annual wages in 2009, according to BLS data (see table below).



One hundred years ago, life was a constant struggle against disease, pollution, deforestation, treacherous working conditions, and enormous cultural divides unbreachable with current communications technologies. By the end of the 20th century, the world had become a healthier, safer, and more productive place, primarily because of engineering achievements.

Engineers have a collective responsibility to improve the lives of people around the world. Creating a sustainable world that provides a safe, secure, healthy, productive, and sustainable life for all peoples should be a priority for the engineering profession. Engineers have an obligation to meet the basic needs of all humans for water, sanitation, food, health, and energy, as well as to protect cultural and natural diversity. Improving the lives of the five billion people whose main concern is staying alive each day is no longer an option; it is an obligation.

Educating engineers to become facilitators of sustainable development, appropriate technology, and social and economic changes represents one of the greatest challenges faced by the engineering profession today.

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