Let me tell you a joke. It's not a very funny, I'm afraid, but such were the jokes of the Liquidators, the soldiers and volunteers tasked with the cleanup of the Chernobyl Disaster.
What is the soul of software engineering as a discipline? That is, who is it that the software engineer can esteem? It's on this difficultly that Francis Spufford's Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin ultimately runs aground.
I went to a conference earlier this month and after a speaker admitted feeling like a fraud, folks began sharing their like feeling, admitting it with palpable relief. It was a singular experience. Throughout, I thought of Alain de Botton's "Status Anxiety".
Can we build systems which function perfectly in all circumstances? Can we avoid all accidents with enough time, enough information, enough practice running the system or enough process around it?
The US space program is a treasure trove of insight into engineering at the extremes of human ability. It is a field which concerns itself deeply with human-machine interaction. Spacecrafts are not fully automated, nor are they under the total control of the human operators (the astronauts "in the can" and the ground control crew).