Livin’ The Dream

While I was in Ireland, it became apparent to me just how warped the North American lifestyle appears to be. Watching an episode of ‘Friends’, I noticed that Monica and Rachel’s apartment was roughly the size of most Irish families’ entire houses! Most movies showed homes that were not only disproportionately large compared to North American standards of living, but also nearly palaces by European standards. No wonder so many people around the world feel bad about themselves.

People in other countries must think we’re crazy, given some of the things that we consume. Think of the things that get made in places like China, Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh, to name only a few of the world largest Export Processing Zones. In No Logo, Naomi Klein presented the disturbing image of a child in one of these zones producing Disney merchandise for consumption by her North American counterpart. Imagine what she must think of us, or of the child that will be the eventual recipient of the toys she produces.

Personally, I always wondered what the workers in these zones think about producing all of the exotic sex toys consumed by the world market. How do you explain your job to your child? I guess all you can say is that daddy works “in plastics” or something equally vague. It must be surreal to work in one these factories, and to think that you have to scrape a living out of creating artificial phalluses for the pleasure of bored housewives. What do they think of us?

Even our perception of how we should be living is distorted within North America. Look at ‘Sex in the City’. Do you think Carry Bradshaw could afford some of the outfits and shoes she wears? I don’t think so. No wonder that, according to the Age Of Access, the saving rate of American has dropped from 25.5% of post-tax income in 1944 to -0.2% in 1998. In other words, they’re spending more than they make!

The time has come for us to stop this feel-good-about-ourselves consumption binge. We’re not living a dream, we’re living an illusion. It’s not healthy for us, those producing these goods, or the planet. Next time you’re in a store, ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Is this something that I can’t actually live a full life without?” and if the answer is “No”, then do the right thing. Don’t buy it.

Professional Practice Exam

I wrote the Professional Practice Exam on Monday, part of fulfilling the requirements for registration as a PEng (Professional Engineer) with APEGBC. Though the exam went well, I am still concerned with the focus of the Association on the “traditional” fields of engineering, and the lack of action with respect to advancing the state of the software engineering as a profession. Now, more than ever, the Canadian public (and the world in general) needs professional software engineers who are empowered to protect the public’s health and welfare.

Consider the suggested study material for the exam:

Though the books cover the requisite material in excellent detail, most of the case studies leave much to be desired. Legal precedents cited in the first book focus primarily on legal actions related to the construction industry, ignoring most other areas of engineering. Studies of ethical dilemmas in the second book again focus on “traditional” engineering fields. What amazes me is the complete lack of any coverage of the multitude of unique legal and ethical problems faced by Software Engineering, the youngest of the professional engineering streams. Engineers in this field require more, not less, guidance than their colleagues in more traditional fields of engineering where most of the “best practices” have been well established for decades, if not centuries.

When I registered as an EIT, I wasn’t entirely convinced that the Association provided any real benefit to electronic, computer, or software engineers. Every year at my university (SFU) the Association would swing by and declare, “you should go for your PEng!” but would fail to provide any tangible reason to do so, except for members of the “traditional” engineering fields. I entered the EIT program with the hope that the appearance of the Software Engineering stream signalled that the Association was becoming more relevant.

Three years later, I’ve seen little action on the part of the Association for Software Engineering. Sure, the Engineer and Geoscientist’s Act (“the Act”) requires you to be registered to engage in the practice of engineering, but I see little or no enforcement in the fields of software, computer, or software engineering. There are plenty of people operating in the field without certificates or registration, but the Association isn’t stopping them (in fact, the Act doesn’t provide adequate enforcement provisions according to APEGBC). Most employers aren’t looking for registered computer, electronic, or software engineers, and anyone who’s “really into computers” seems to be calling himself or herself a “software engineer”.

Any time I’ve contacted members of the Association, the reply has taken a long time and has done little to reassure me. The CSED (Computer and Software Engineering Division) of APEGBC shows very little activity. Though I’m trying to get involved to help the CSED, I get the sense that members of the CSED have already been deflated by the Association’s lack of action.

You might ask: why is this important? True, most software is destined for applications that don’t have even a remote chance of endangering life, but bad software is costing companies billions in downtime and exposing their confidential corporate data. Isn’t it part of our obligation to protect property, and the general public good? What public good is served by allowing companies to release defective software? In addition, there is a risk to the traditional engineering fields (civil and mechanical engineering in particular) that their increasing reliance on software products (most likely not designed by engineers) to design and build products could endanger life and limb.

Software touches every aspect of our lives. I would suggest that by failing to act appropriately to enforce registration, the Association is failing to fulfill its obligations as described by the Act. My question is: what is the Association currently doing, or (in the near future) going to do about it?