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Communications of the ACM

The profession of IT

The Forgotten Engineer

The Forgotten Engineer, illustrative photo

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates

We live in a time that reveres science. It was not always this way: in much of the previous centuries, engineers were heroes. In the late 20th century, however, the engineer's image eroded because science seemed to offer more hope with difficult problems and because technology seemed to inflict collateral damage through such issues as pollution, exploitation of nature, weapons of mass destruction, and massive surveillance.

Our modern fascination for science is marginalizing engineering. This is especially bad for computer science and engineering. For instance, we routinely teach programming as a set of abstractions to be applied rather than a skill of design to satisfy customers. We routinely make claims about what computing can theoretically accomplish without knowing that we can deliver.


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