Some decades back, when computer was just born and was completely new thing to people. Very few people could operate them and software was not given very much of emphasis. That time hardware was the most important part that decided the cost of implementation and success rate of the system developed.
Very few people were known to programming. Computer programming was very much considered to be an art gifted to few rather than skill of logical thinking. This approach was full of risk and even in most of the cases, the system that was undertaken for development, never met the completion.
Soon after that, some emphasis was given towards software development. This started a new era of software development. Slowly, people started giving more importance to software development.
People, who wrote software, hardly followed any methodology, approach or discipline that would lead to a successful implementation of a bug-free and fully functional system.
There hardly existed any specific documentation, system design approach and related documents etc. These things were confined to only those who developed hardware systems. Software development plans and designs were confined to only concepts in mind.
Even after number of people jumped in this field, because of the lack of proper development strategies, documentations and maintenance plans, the software system that was developed was costlier than before. It took more time to develop the entire system.
Even sometimes, it was next to impossible to predict the completion date of the system that was under development. The lines of codes were increased to a very large number increasing the complexity of the project/software. As the complexity of the software increased it also increased the number of bugs/problems in the system.
Most of the time, the system that was developed, was unusable by the customer because of problems such as late delivery (generally very very very late) and also because of number of bugs, there were no plans to deal with situations where in the system was needed to be maintained, this led to the situation called 'Software Crisis'.
Most of software projects, which were just concepts in brain but had no standard methodologies, practices to follow, experienced failure, causing loss of millions of dollars.
'Software Crisis' made people think seriously about the software development processes, and practices that could be followed to ensure a successful, cost-effective system implementation, which could be delivered on time and used by the customer. People were compelled to think about new ideas of systematic development of software systems.
This approach gave birth to the most crucial part of the software development process, this part constituted the most modern and advanced thinking and even the basics of any project management, it needed the software development process be given an engineering perspective thought. This approach is called 'Software Engineering'.
Standard definition of 'Software Engineering' is 'the application of systematic, disciplined, quantifiable, approach to the development, operation and maintenance of software i.e. the application of engineering to software.'
The Software Engineering subject uses a systematic approach towards developing any software project. It shows how systematically and cost-effectively a software project can be handled and successfully completed assuring higher success rates.
It includes planning and developing strategies, defining time-lines and following guidelines to ensure the successful completion of particular phases, following predefined Software Development Life-Cycles, using documentation plans for follow-ups etc. to complete various phases of software development process and providing better support for the system.
Software Engineering takes an all-round approach to find out the customer's needs and even it asks customers about their opinions hence proceeding towards development of a desired product.
Various methodologies/practices such as 'Waterfall Model', 'Spiral Model' etc. are developed under Software Engineering which provides guidelines to follow during software development ensuring on time completion of the project.
These approaches help in dividing the software development process into small tasks/phases such as requirement gathering and analysis, system design phase, coding phase etc. that makes it very much easy to manage the project.
These methods/approaches also help in understanding the problems faced (which occur during the system development process and even after the deployment of the system at customer's site) and strategies to be followed to take care of all the problems and providing a strong support for the system developed.
For example: the problems with one phase are resolved in the next phase, and after deployment of the product, problems related to the system such as queries, bug that was not yet detected etc. which is called support and maintenance of the system. These all strategies are decided while following the various methodologies.
Today, almost 100% software development projects use Software Engineering concepts and follow the standard guidelines; this ensures a safe pathway for these projects. In future also, all the projects will surely follow the Software Engineering concepts (may be with improved strategies and methodologies.)