Are you a software engineer? Today is a good day. Have you read the news? Read here for a quick review about the SM-3 missile versus the USA-193 satellite smack-down that took place over the Pacific Ocean. This event was not exciting to me because it was a demonstration of American military capability - I mean, it was that, but my interests in the event have a different motivation. It was exciting to me because this was a hammering success for the software engineers that modified the Navy’s systems to pop that satellite over a hundred miles above the planet without a warhead. It wasn’t like the Navy had to get close enough to detonate the missile. They had to be dead on because this was a kinetic kill at closing speeds over 20,000 MPH. This event was a strong example of software as a differentiator. Missiles and rockets are becoming commodity items. Russia has them, China has them, and the Middle East has them or is testing them. In fact, most countries with a vowel in their name have missile capabilities. A missile is not a big deal - a tube with propellant. Light it off, it might go up, sideways, spin wildly or just fall over and explode. The SM-3 has been around for a few years, but the military has never admitted to trying to use it to shoot down a satellite in orbit. The SM-3 was originally designed to go nose-to-nose with incoming short and medium range missiles. The exciting story-behind-the-story for me is that software brought that satellite down and the SM-3 missile provided a reliable and high-performance lift for the software to find it’s target.Today software is the key differentiator in a world of commodity technology. Think about it. A majority of us have cell phones. They are shrinking in size and expanding in capability. Where does that capability ultimately come from? Why would you buy one phone over another? I select a phone and carrier based on features. Where do the features come from? Is it in the case, the antenna, the battery, the screen, or the memory card? All cell phones have these in one form or another. What differentiates them from one another is the software. The phone’s software realizes the capability to share a chat in your social network, send a ring tone to a friend, find an archived text message from your sibling, and to learn about the latest discounts at the stores in your area reported by the GPS.Have you seen Ford’s new commercials recently? They are touting the Sync system. In fact, they are spending a lot of money showcasing that and not MPG, crash tests, 60-0 stopping ability, etc. Whether or not that is a good idea is yet to be seen. The hardware that goes into Sync goes into a lot of in-car entertainment and phone systems: speakers, radio, CD, MP3 player, microphone, antenna, LCD screen and little buttons on the steering wheel. Big deal. Commodity items. What differentiates Sync is the voice recognition system and the integration of pieces inside and outside the system. So, what is Sync? It is the software that realizes the features and value proposal of the Sync concept.Today software is what differentiates individual pieces and parts from something innovative that creates new value. My final example is the Toyota Prius. It has something called Hybrid Synergy Drive. It not enough to say it is a gas and electric hybrid. That wouldn’t do it justice. It is a drive-by-wire system, and at it’s heart: software making the decisions when to go electric, gas, recharge, and much more. A human tasked with driving and making these continuous decisions on how to generate power most efficiently from all the available choices would not be practical or possible.Today is one more good day for software engineers - the people behind the Wizard’s curtain. Well done. I’ll see you at the bar for a toast. Without you, it’s just a box of pieces and parts.