Deciding What to Design: Closing a Gap in Software Engineering Education
Software has jumped "out of the box" - it controls critical systems; it pervades business and commerce; it is embedded in myriad mechanisms; it infuses entertainment, communication, and other activities of everyday life. Designs for these applications are constrained not only by traditional considerations of capability and performance but also by economic, business, market, and policy issues and the context of intended use. The diversity of applications requires adaptability in responding to client needs, and the diversity of clients and contexts requires the ability to discriminate among criteria for success. As a result, software designers must also get out of their boxes: in addition to mastering traditional software development skills, they must understand the contextual issues that discriminate good solutions from merely competent ones. Current software engineering education, however, remains largely "in the box": it neglects the rich fabric of issues that lie between the client's problem and actual software development. At Carnegie Mellon we have addressed this major shortcoming with a course that teaches students to understand both the capabilities required by the client and the constraints imposed by the client's context. This paper presents our view of the engineering character of software engineering, describes the content and organization of our new course, reports on our experience from the first three offerings of our course, and suggests ways to adapt our course for other educational settings.