[SIGCIS-Members] First uses of the term "Software Engineering"

Brian Randell Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk
Fri Feb 3 11:12:41 EST 2012


Prompted by a query from Professor Jochen Ludwig, I am seeking to find early uses of the term "software engineering".

Back in 1978, when I was writing my ICSE-4 paper "Software Engineering in 1968", I tried to find the first use. My recollection is that I found several that pre-dated the 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering, but unfortunately the only one I mentioned in my 1978 paper, and can now recall, was that by J.P. Eckert in the 1965 Fall Joint Computer Conference. (Computer programming 'would only be manageable,' he [Eckert] claimed, 'when we could refer to it as 'software engineering'.' - Nathan Ensmerger: The computer boys take over (MIT 2010).)

There is little dispute that the 1968 NATO Conference brought the hitherto virtually unknown term into vogue, though many now fail to appreciate that the conference organisers, led by Prof Fritz Bauer, chose the term in order to express a need, rather than to claim the existence of a reality. (I do not know whether they were aware of any prior use.)

To quote the 1968 Report: "The phrase ‘software engineering’ was deliberately chosen as being provocative, in implying the need for software manufacture to be based on the types of theoretical foundations and practical disciplines, that are traditional in the established branches of engineering." 

The question of when software engineering became a real discipline worthy of the name - if indeed it has - is a separate issue. My query merely concerns the term, not the alleged reality, and I would be grateful for citations of any other occurrences that preceded the NATO Software Engineering Conference (7-11 October 1968).


Brian Randell

School of Computing Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne,
EMAIL = Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk   PHONE = +44 191 222 7923
FAX = +44 191 222 8232  URL = http://www.cs.ncl.ac.uk/people/brian.randell

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