Monday, September 21, 2009

What Am I?

My trade is that of a software engineer. If you don’t know what that is, you might know it by another name, computer programmer. That may not tell you much either. We occasionally show up in fiction. Tron had a computer programmer who entered a computer and was able to speak to his programs. As much as I would love to do that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You may recall in Jurassic Park that the villain was a computer programmer. He was a little more true to life, but trust me, a real computer programmer wouldn’t have been able to write a million lines of code by himself.

In real life, hundreds or even thousands of software engineers may work on a single product. You may think of software as programs that run on you computer and that is true, but these days there is computer code in almost every electrical device you can think of. Your microwave oven, for example, may have code that controls what it does when you press the buttons. Rather than wire the microwave a specific way, the keypad is connected to a chip that has code that tells it to operate various other circuits. That’s a relatively simple example. Something more complicated, like your car or an airplane may have many thousands of lines of code.


I’ve never written code for a microwave, but I would expect that the manufacturer has a team of about ten people who are responsible for that code. After it is decided what features the new product will have, the team goes to work designing the system. There is code that reads the input from the keypad. There is code that displays messages to the user. There is code that sets the time. There’s code that reads the sensors that determine if the food is done. The team goes to work writing code. Then it has to be tested. You wouldn’t want the microwave to come one when it shouldn’t or fail to shut off when the timer reaches zero. There are many things that code go wrong if the code isn’t right. It’s far more work than one man can handle, but if you’ve got a mind for it, it can be a lot of fun.