Software Engineering: Definition, Process & Methods

Instructor: Shweta Gadagkar

Shweta holds a Masters Degree in Biochemical Engineering and is a coding enthusiast

Software engineering is more than just programming. It includes computer science, project management, engineering and other spheres. This lesson will discuss the different processes involved in it and the common methods used in developing software.

It's All In the Cards

Let's imagine you're running a successful business creating handmade cards, where customers can place orders detailing their specifications. You create stunning designs and follow up with your customers during the entire card making process. Once they are satisfied with the design, you create beautiful cards and ship them quickly, for a great price. You also provide support after the shipment by providing design enhancements. Your customers are happy and you are too.

You just applied the principles of software engineering to your business. Software engineering essentially follows the same steps. The only difference is that you are running a 'software' business instead of a card business.

Definition of Software Engineering

Software engineering is the use of an organized and regulated approach for the design, development, testing, documentation, and maintenance of software by applying principles from engineering, project management, computer science, programming, cost management as well as other areas.

A 'software' includes a set of executable programs along with supporting libraries and documentation. The end result of software engineering is a streamlined and reliable software product.

The Software Engineering Process

The process encompasses the entire range of activities, from initial customer inception to software production and maintenance. It is also known as the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Let's take a look at each of the steps involved in a typical software engineering process:

Understanding Customer Requirements

This step is also known as the 'requirements collection' step. It's all about communicating with the customer before building a software, so you get to know their requirements thoroughly. It's usually conducted by a business analyst or product analyst. A 'Customer Requirement Specification' (CRS) document is written from a customer's perspective and describes, in a simple way, what the software is going to do.

Requirements Analysis: Is the project feasible?

This stage involves exploring issues related to the financial, technical, operational, and time management aspects of software development. It's an essential step towards creating functional specifications and design. It is usually done by a team of product managers, business analysts, software architects, developers, HR, and finance managers.

Creating a Design

Once the analysis stage is over, it's time to create a blueprint for the software. Architects and senior developers create a high-level design of the software architecture, along with a low-level design describing how each and every component in the software should work.

Coding, Testing, and Installation

Next, software developers implement the design by writing code. After all the code developed by different teams is integrated, test engineers check if the software meets the required specifications, so that developers can debug code. The release engineer then deploys the software on a server.

Keeping it going: Maintenance

Maintenance is the application of each of the above steps to the existing modules in the software in order to modify or add new features, depending on what the customer needs.

The following figure illustrates all the stages of the software engineering process:

A typical software engineering process
A typical software engineering process

Software Engineering Methods

Just as you can take a number of routes to the same destination, software engineering methods are just different kinds of approaches that you follow in order to create and deliver a software product. They are also known as 'Process Models' or 'Process Methodologies'. Let's take a look at some of the most common methods used in software engineering:

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