What is Software Engineering? Definition, Basics, Characteristics

What is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is defined as a process of analyzing user requirements and then designing, building, and testing software application which will satisfy those requirements.

Let’s look at the various definitions of software engineering:

  • IEEE, in its standard 610.12-1990, defines software engineering as the application of a systematic, disciplined, which is a computable approach for the development, operation, and maintenance of software.
  • Fritz Bauer defined it as ‘the establishment and used standard engineering principles. It helps you to obtain, economically, software which is reliable and works efficiently on the real machines’.
  • Boehm defines software engineering, which involves, ‘the practical application of scientific knowledge to the creative design and building of computer programs. It also includes associated documentation needed for developing, operating, and maintaining them.’

Why Software Engineering? Software Crisis & its Solution

What was the Software Crisis?

  • It was in the late 1960s when many software projects failed.
  • Many software became over budget. Output was an unreliable software which is expensive to maintain.
  • Larger software was difficult and quite expensive to maintain.
  • Lots of software not able to satisfy the growing requirements of the customer.
  • Complexities of software projects increased whenever its hardware capability increased.
  • Demand for new software increased faster compared with the ability to generate new software.

All the above issues lead to ‘Software Crisis.’

The Solution

Solution was to the problem was transforming unorganized coding effort into a software engineering discipline. These engineering models helped companies to streamline operations and deliver software meeting customer requirements.

  • The late 1970s saw the widespread uses of software engineering principles.
  • In the 1980s saw the automation of software engineering process and growth of (CASE) Computer-Aided Software Engineering.
  • The 1990s have seen an increased emphasis on the ‘management’ aspects of projects standard of quality and processes just like ISO 9001

Why Software Engineering is Popular?

Here are important reasons behind the popularity of software engineering:

Why Software Engineering is Popular

  • Large software – In our real life, it is quite more comfortable to build a wall than a house or building. In the same manner, as the size of the software becomes large, software engineering helps you to build software.
  • Scalability- If the software development process were based on scientific and engineering concepts, it is easier to re-create new software to scale an existing one.
  • Adaptability: Whenever the software process was based on scientific and engineering, it is easy to re-create new software with the help of software engineering.
  • Cost- Hardware industry has shown its skills and huge manufacturing has lower the cost of the computer and electronic hardware.
  • Dynamic Nature– Always growing and adapting nature of the software. It depends on the environment in which the user works.
  • Quality Management: Offers better method of software development to provide quality software products.

Relationship of Software Engineering with Other Disciplines

Here, how software engineering related to other disciplines:

  • Computer Science: Gives the scientific foundation for the software as electrical engineering mainly depends on physics.
  • Management Science: Software engineering is labor-intensive work which demands both technical and managerial control. Therefore, it is widely used in management science.
  • Economics: In this sector, software engineering helps you in resource estimation and cost control. Computing system must be developed, and data should be maintained regularly within a given budget.
  • System Engineering: Most software is a component of a much larger system. For example, the software in an Industry monitoring system or the flight software on an airplane. Software engineering methods should be applied to the study of this type of systems.

Challenges of Software Engineering

Here are some critical challenges faced by software engineers:

  • In safety-critical areas such as space, aviation, nuclear power plants, etc. the cost of software failure can be massive because lives are at risk.
  • Increased market demands for fast turnaround time.
  • Dealing with the increased complexity of software need for new applications.
  • The diversity of software systems should be communicating with each other.

Attributes for Software Products

The characteristics of any software product include features which are displayed by the product when it is installed and put in use.

They are not the services which are provided by the product. Instead, they have related to the products dynamic behavior and the use made of the product.

Examples of these attributes are:

Efficiency, reliability, robustness, maintainability, etc. 

However, the relative importance of these characteristics varies from one software system to another.

Product Characteristics Description
Maintainability The software should evolve to meet the changing demands of the clients.
Dependability Dependability includes various characteristics. Dependable software should never cause any physical or economic damage at the time of system failure.
Efficiency The software application should overuse system resources like memory and processor cycle.
Usability The software application should have specific UI and documentation.

Optimizing the above attribute is very challenging. For example, offering a better UI can reduce system efficiency.

Characteristics of Good Software

Any software should be judged by what it offers and what are the methods which help you to use it.

Every software must satisfy the following attributes:

  • Operational
  • Transitional
  • Maintenance

Here are some important characteristics of good software developed by software professionals


This characteristic let us know about how well software works in the operations which can be measured on:

  • Budget
  • Efficiency
  • Usability
  • Dependability
  • Correctness
  • Functionality
  • Safety
  • Security


This is an essential aspect when the software is moved from one platform to another:

  • Interoperability
  • Reusability
  • Portability
  • Adaptability


This aspect talks about how well software has the capabilities to adapt itself in the quickly changing environment:

  • Flexibility
  • Maintainability
  • Modularity
  • Scalability


  • Software engineering is a process of analyzing user requirements and then designing, building, and testing software application which will satisfy that requirements
  • Important reasons for using software engineering are: 1) Large software, 2) Scalability 3) Adaptability 4) Cost and 5) Dynamic Nature.
  • In late 1960s many software becomes over budget. Therefore it offers unreliable software which is expensive to maintain.
  • The late 1970s saw the widespread uses of software engineering principles.
  • Software engineering concept 1) Computer Science 2) Management Science 3) System engineering and 4) Economics
  • Increased market demands for fast turnaround time is the biggest challenges of software engineering field.
  • 1)Maintainability, 2) Dependability, 3) Efficiency and, 4) Usability are the most important attributes of software products.
  • Three most important characteristics of good software are 1) Operational 2)Transitional 3)Maintenance.