The SWEBOK fallacy

There seem to be a significant number of people in the software engineering community, especially in the US, who believe that a ‘body of knowledge’ for software engineers can be (a) defined (b) agreed and (c) made a requirement for licensing.  IMHO, they have really got this wrong:

1. Bodies of knowledge reflect the past not the future. Generally, it is greybeards who get involved in such things because young folks are just getting on with their work/life, etc. BOK’s reflect what these greybeards know and often they don’t know or understand recent important developments. I know – I’m an oldster too – and all the time I have to actively work to stay open-minded about new developments rather than falling back on what I might think of as ‘fundamentals’ but which may be no such thing. Us 60’s folk have to remember one of our heros, Bob Dylan – “don’t criticise what you can’t understand”.

2. There is a truly immense diversity in software engineering and an engineer developing mission critical software for a spacecraft really has very little in common with a developer tailoring SAP systems for an enterprise. The BOK for the former includes lots of hardware stuff, safety, etc; the BOK for the latter, lots of stuff about business and business processes. Really, let’s not kid ourselves that there is some ‘fundamental core’ that is of practical value to both of these types of software engineer.

My SE book reflects my experience and interests in SE – but I would never claim this was some kind of universal body of knowledge.



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2 responses to “The SWEBOK fallacy

  1. Thanks for this post, helping to put order in SE chaos. I am 39 years old, not a newbie nor a greybeards. So, I could yet understand your point. Thanks again, Sommerville.
    By the way, today I bought your SE book, 8th edition, translated to portuguese (Brazil). I think it’s time to revisit old fundamentals (not only in SE, I read Dijkstra books to revisit computer science fundamentals, too) in order to select and apply wisely the new and fascinating practices brought by Agile and Lean specialists to the contemporary software industry.

  2. Good post. I’m 33 yrs. old and tried to help out with the SWEBOK 2010 effort and been denied access for at least a year now. Apparently my beard is not gray enough 🙂

    My central concern is educating new software engineers. Current undergraduate programs in Computer Science are way too theoretical and outdated. Maybe more undergrad programs in Software Engineering? But then what should every Software Engineer know if the SWEBOK is a futile effort?
    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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