People don’t remember what the word “engineer” means anymore and I think they should.

Published on  ~900 words 5 min read

Nowadays we have X-developers (replace X with a tech) everywhere. Most people forgot what engineering means what exactly stands behind the word engineer. This post is to remind what it actually is and that we need more engineers than X-developers.

What “engineer” means to me?

When I was studying at Altay State Technical University in the small town Barnaul in Russia we used to think about ourselves as engineers not just developers.

The educational system in Russia was very different in comparison with the western system at that point. We didn’t have Bachelor’s or Master’s degree we had a qualification level and in my case it was “Engineer in software development and automated systems”.

You might be wondering what’s special about it? So, we had a lot of courses and almost all of them were mandatory. We didn’t have this system of choosing courses and gaining points, we had to learn all the courses the educational standard had: 8 types of math, philosophy, ecology, safety of life, electronics, low-level programming with binary code and assembler, object-oriented programming, software design patterns, algorithms and data structures, theory of programming languages, UI/UX, computer graphics, artificial intelligence, cyber-security, networks, computer architectures and the rest 60% of other courses. Exactly, I’ve listed just a few. And everyone had to be great at all of those, otherwise they wouldn’t get their diploma. Basically, it’s everything you could possibly face working in engineering in the future. This is a huge amount of foundation that enables you to learn complex things, build even more complex things, and being creative at solving problems. Also, this foundation builds you as a person in engineering and lets you choose what to do later in your life.

Of course, it does not work for everyone. I’ve seen a lot of different people studying with me. Someone was cheating all the time, someone was just repeating after books but also, I’ve met a lot very talented engineers who were creating amazing things.

Now I’m very proud telling everyone that I’m an engineer and I know how the stuff works.

So, what about people?

It’s been 4 years since I graduated from university and 6 years since I started working as a software development engineer (yes, I had to work and study at the same time). Therefore, I have a bit of perspective on the industry in general and how it became to be “X-developer”-oriented.

Nobody asks you if you’re an engineer anymore they want to hear if you’re a JavaScript-developer, C#-developer or any-other-developer. Just a few companies on the market would look at your experience carefully learning what kind of problems you were solving in your career, how efficient and elegant were your solutions at that point. The majority are just trying to find some buzz-words in your CV, like names of libraries or specific technologies and the candidate who has the bigger amount of technology/library names on the list wins.

You’ve built your own technology? Nevermind, must be another bicycle syndrome case. We don’t want to spend that much time looking at it. It’s a great luck if someone really looked at the source code and said something like “I would like to work with this person, this code is amazing”.

The majority of companies are looking for “X-developers”, even though, being an engineer means having a wide perspective on things and being able to learn anything very fast.

When people ask me about my profession I usually have this conversation:

X: Hey, what do you do? Me: I’m a software engineer. X: Cool, what are you working on? Me: Currently, I’m working on a UI-components library most of the time. X: Got it, you’re a front-end developer. Me: Nope, I’m a software engineer, just working on this project at the moment. X: Dunno, what you mean, dude.

And for me it sounds really insulting because my engineer qualification has been just shrinked to the ability of creating front-end web-apps. My scope is much wider and who knows what I would be doing in a year, it’s just an interesting thing to me at the moment and the only word that I know for describing this condition — engineer.

There are “X-developers” out there

I’m not saying that every person working in software development is an engineer. I’ve met some people who prefer staying away of anything except the technology they like and that’s totally okay. But there is another problem then — they still think they’re engineers and call themselves that way confusing people around.

Well, maybe for someone it’s not that obvious but knowing neither a programming language nor library would not make you an engineer. As I mentioned before, it’s a huge foundation that builds your way of thinking, it’s not just knowledge of a certain technology. I would say, it even makes you a hacker (btw, also check this term out).


Here I am, a whining engineer who complains how people call me and I’m asking just one thing — let’s remember the difference between being an “X-developer” and engineer and when people tell you they’re engineers just imagine how wide their specialization is and how many topics for a conversation you could find talking to them.

The whole engineering culture is about being open-minded, creative and continuously learning. Keep this in mind if you want to join this culture.

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