Getting to know each other: Understanding the differences between hardware and software.

Author:Kuehlmonn, Andreas

To the average IT professional, the differences in the development of software and the design of hardware might seem insignificant. However, with both software and hardware playing a critical role in modern life, it has never been more important to understand the differences between the two and determine if there are areas where one can learn from the other. What are the key areas of difference between software and hardware?

Back to basics

Even at the most basic level, there is a significant difference in how we describe the builders of hardware and software. In hardware the terms used include "chip designers" or "hardware engineers", and these different titles are interchangeable as the functions they carry out are the same. But this isn't the case with software, with designers and developers occupying very different roles and functions within an organisation. Software designers manage the aesthetics of the software while developers ensure that it functions and does what it's designed to do. Understanding this key difference is an important first step in recognising how both sectors approach their roles.

Another difference is the number of people who are skilled to develop hardware versus software. Anyone can learn to write code and produce software for practically any purpose. The explosion of applications available on mobile platforms is testament to this. But while there is a strong and thriving software development community as a result of this activity, there is not the same support community available for hardware design. While the software community numbers more than IS million globally, there are fewer than 100,000 chip designers. This difference in size is significant as it has implications for the availability of tools to support the design and development of both hardware and software. Ultimately, the availability of tools also directly affects the launch and release of their respective products.

Right first time

For hardware developers the mantra in production has to be "right the first time", there is no opportunity to recall and change hardware once it has been sent to the customer. As a result, there are highly sophisticated tools available integrated into comprehensive methodologies that provide extensive testing and verification of any hardware due to be shipped. But such tools are very expensive and the cost spent per engineer on these support tools...

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