This paper aims to discuss the challenge for the classical idea of professionalism in understanding the Chinese software engineering industry after giving a close insight into the development of this industry as well as individual engineers with a psycho-societal perspective. Design/methodology/approach: The study starts with the general review of the sociological concept of profession, professional and specialization of knowledge. Together with revealing the critical challenge from the empirical field of software engineering industry regarding its professionalization, a critique of the neglect of subjective agency in classical conception of professionalism in sociology theory and methodology is set out. Findings: A case study with interpretation of the subject's continuously developing identification with their specialization in knowledge and occupation from their narration of career experience reveals the dynamics in this development process relating to individual, social practice and societal factors. Originality/value: This paper contributes to empirical research of analyzing the professionalization process of software engineering and software engineers in relation to the concept of professionalism, and it contributes theoretically by discussing the challenge of this process to the development of professionalism within this highly knowledge-based industry in a Chinese societal context.