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Why is Software Product Engineering Exceptionally Unique?

Posted on: 22 December '10

Software Product Engineering (SPE), one of the crucial disciplines of IT industry, has been through several critical milestones spread across more than 4 decades. Numerous professionals across the world including scientists in research labs, academia, entrepreneurs, outsourced product development (OPD) service providers, and freelancers have left their foot prints in the history of Computing.

The Arpanet project aimed at developing a system to send text messages proved to be a success and it resulted in the first email system in 1969. Intel’s microprocessor of 1971 fueled the next wave of growth in the IT industry. TCP/IP was an international effort in 1974 to standardize data communication on computer networks. The first graphical workstation was invented at Xerox Parc in 1981. In 1990, at CERN, Tim Berners Lee conceived the concept of World Wide Web and introduced it to the research community. Mark Andreesen, with a small team of passionate engineers at Netscape Communications, developed the first browser software and initiated the browsing experience of HTML content on the Internet to millions of users across the globe. One can write volumes of success stories on such innovations that resulted in plethora of Independent Software Vendors and a huge assortment of Software Products.

Professionals who contributed to such inventions and provided opportunities for creating killer applications are known for an assortment of traits in addition to Technical Excellence and Passion. The qualities of such professionals are very interesting and they form a wide range of innate attributes. Without this spectrum of qualities we would not have seen a spectrum of innovations in the industry!

We belong to the era of Cloud Computing that is aimed at optimization, consolidation and eco-friendliness. Also we are part of an era where there are huge investments happening on Second Life products.

SPE is very unique because of the five key aspects viz., Technology, Product, People, Process and Culture.

Technology: SPE involves technologies of current or next generation. This brings in a high level of dynamism and evolutionary nature in the technical environment. Predominantly, such an environment involves multi-platforms as well as state-of-the-art or cutting edge technical paradigms.

Product: Products are developed under tight budget with very high pressure on speed-to-market. The end-users of products are unbounded. In most of the cases, this means unpredictable scalability. Product Quality is of utmost priority and hence the Cost of Quality is very high. Hence, a product can make or break a brand.

People: Engineers who contribute to the various lifecycle phases of SPE possess not only deep engineering skills but also ‘Product Engineering Mindset’. Product Engineering Mindset includes qualities such as self-learning, collaboration, team work, perpetual experimentation and exploration, asking precise questions and seeking answers, promoting reuse, commitment, focus and courage.

Process: Typically SPE organizations follow home grown process or light-weight processes. Many of them follow Agile or Lean based methodologies. It is not uncommon to see the lack of detailed documentation in SPE ecosystems.

Culture: SPE culture is unique. It is technology driven. It is very aggressive and action-packed.
(Ref: I first talked about these 5 aspects in my blog at IDG Connect).

Mindtree’s SPE business helps customers build world class software products. Within SPE, the Technologies & Practices function is a very strategic component that drives SPE’s vision for industry leadership in the SPE arena. The dedicated team of SPE Technology and Practice experts in this group works on contemporary and emerging technologies to build solution accelerators, frameworks and tools that are of significant value to SPE’s customers. Also, this group helps define robust product engineering methodologies and best practices to deliver superior product quality.

Working for an SPE organization or founding a high-tech startup is the dream of many software engineers. This is a very challenging and rewarding dream that requires high-level of ownership and commitment. In my opinion, understanding these basic traits of SPE is the first step to prepare oneself to join SPE ecosystems.

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  • Mukund Toro

    One point of conflict between SPE an SE (software engineering) could perhaps be the everchanging requirement. SE relies a lot on firm requirements, which is rather utopian. For a product, what is required is an appropriate and dynamic process. You cannot go by the book.

  • Great post, Raja.

    Product engineering mindset is perhaps one of the most mis-understood term and you have captured the essence of it in this post. Do you think it is a learnable skill? how about creating a vesrion of de Bono’s hats for “prodcut engineering” as a learning tool.

    wishing you and all fellow readers of your blog happy holidays.

  • Mukund,

    You made a good point.

    SPE projects are evolutionary in nature as compared to typical MIS projects.

    Yes, we cannot go by the book!

  • Thanks Ajay,

    Good question. Also, a good idea.

    Product Engineering Mindset comes through many channels of learning such as training programs, hands-on experience, observing, thinking, reading etc., Also, the inherent attitude is very important. SPE teams need to have competency, courage, confidence and trust.

    Happy holidays to you too!

  • Mandarin translation

    Good post. I support your idea. Thanks for this post.