Computer engineers and scientists have made a case for the professionals in advancing the prospects of Nigeria’s digital economy.
They submitted that the merit of the digital economy is underscored by its rise to many new trends, start-up ideas, and breakthrough advancements.
According to stakeholders in the computer engineering and science fields, the professions make important contributions to the economy, both from direct addition to economic output from the work they do, and the contribution of the sectors in which they work.
They made these observations during a webinar, themed: “The roles of Computer Engineers and Computer Scientists in a Developing Digital Economy,” organised by the Nigerian Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (NIEEE).
They also used the opportunity to reaffirm the relationship that exists between engineers and scientists in the computer space, saying no feud within the rank.
Prof. Francisca N. Ogwueleka of the Department of Computer Science and Cyber Security, Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, said computer science and computer engineering have similarities, as both have overlapping study areas that work side by side.
Advancing the digital economy, Ogwueleka explained that this is also known as web economy or the Internet economy, which is one collective term for all economic transactions that occur on the Internet.
According to her, with the advent of technology and the process of globalisation, the digital and traditional economies are merging into one through the aid of the computer engineer and computer scientist.
She said the digital economy focuses on digital technologies and is based on digital and computing technologies, adding that it covers all business, economic, social, cultural activities that are supported by the web, and other digital communication technologies undertaken by the computer engineer and computer scientist.
Besides, she said one can also consider the long run return to the economy of improvements in physical infrastructure, in which both computer engineers and computer scientists have played a vital role, and the contributions they make to the knowledge economy and to sustainability.
According to her, computer engineers deal with the creation, improvement, and protection of the environment, providing facilities for living, health, industry and transportation. Others include infrastructure, applications and services in different fields such as large buildings, hospitals, roads, bridges, canals, railroad lines, airports, water supply systems, dams, irrigation, harbours, and other science and engineering facilities within a given region which produces high economic values.
“An example can be seen in this pandemic period where there were a lot of collaborations between the engineers and scientists in creating health facilities, automated programmes, robots, ventilators, hospital beds, among others to assist the medical personnel in the fight against the Covid-19,” she stated.
Ogwueleka said the backbone of the digital economy is hyper connectivity, which means growing interconnectedness of people, organisations, and machines that results from the Internet, mobile technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
She identified three main components of digital economy, namely, the e-business, e-business infrastructure, and e-commerce, adding that these components are made possible by the computer engineer and computer scientist.
The NDA don submitted that going forward, computer engineers and computer scientists will have to join forces with biologists, chemists, meteorologists, economists, planners, political scientists, and community leaders in unprecedented ways to lead society on a sustainable economic path.
Ogwueleka noted that in many situations, computer scientists and computer engineers work side by side to design, maintain and build computers, software and hardware.
However, in terms of their roles in developing the economy, she said these vary, depending on the nation’s level of development.
According to her, in an underdeveloped nation (e.g., any of central African nations), computer science role is a relatively minor supporting technology and the best use of resources is to develop infrastructure and the economy, while in the form of IT, can improve efficiency, but such countries will primarily depend on software developed elsewhere.
The most advanced nations (U.S., many European countries), according to him will find more uses for software and will be major producers of software.
“But until a nation has a strong, advanced economy, software will play only a supporting role in development. The role of computer science in developing countries would be to build an online infrastructure, so all sectors and even the government can operate online. You can deliver information at a faster rate than ever possible, and having an infrastructure to support a growing country will definitely improve the overall condition of that country,” she stated.
Simplifying the distinction between both fields in advancing the digital economy, another NDA scholar, Prof. Samuel John, said computer engineers will focus on computer aided drafting and design (CADD), mobile device engineering, sustainable green energy, and biomedical engineering, among others.
John said computer scientists in the digital economy will look into mobile application development, data mining and business, intelligence, web and multimedia design, digital security/cryptography, and more.
From his perspective, Principal Member of Technical Staff (AT&T Labs, Middletown, NJ USA) Godswill Oletu, said computer engineers and scientists are by nature problem solvers, therefore their roles and responsibilities should revolve around solving national problems.
For their roles to be adequate, Oletu, an engineer, said there should be good enabling laws, act and legislation; sound regulatory bodies’ policies and programs; basic educational foundation with relevant contents, and basic enabling environment and access to information.