CCE Theses and Dissertations

Software Engineers: License, Certify or Classify ? Modeling Practitioners Through SPECS

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Although the title "Software Engineer" is widely used throughout industry, each software practitioner who bears the title is not a software engineer by many standards. In many instances, people believe that "Software Engineer" is a euphemism for a "programmer" who writes well-structured code while others believe it is about the software used by engineers. These suppositions expose the ignorance about the historical and legal meaning of "Engineer". Furthermore, the general use of the designation "Engineer" by other non-engineering professions has resulted in weakening the title. Licensing and certification are two possible methods to restrict the use of and restore respectability to the title "Software Engineer ". Unfortunately, efforts to license and certify software engineers have led to debate, controversy and opposition throughout the software community.

This dissertation presumes that the debate over licensing and certification of software engineers is not truly a debate about licensing and certification but a debate about classification. This dissertation presents a system called SPECS (Software Practitioner Expert Classification System). The researcher suggests that a preliminary step prior to initiating the process of certification or licensing should be one of classification. The goal of classification is to associate the proper job title with the professional qualifications and services of the practitioner. The SPECS prototype has an underlying foundation in software engineering.

Eight key components are used to build the classification model. These components include initial professional education, accreditation, skills development, certification, licensing, professional societies, continuing education and code of ethics. The significance of this dissertation is through the research and development of the classification model and the decision support system SPECS, an organization is provided a standard method to properly classify software practitioners and thus identify software engineers that qualify for certification or licensing. In addition, the research contributes to the field of expert system validation, knowledge discovery and knowledge acquisition.

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