VSJ – September 2004 – Members’ News

Notice of Annual General Meeting

The Institution’s 2004 AGM will be on Saturday, 9 October, at Boundary House, Boston Road, Hanwell W7 2QE, starting at 12.00 noon. The AGM is usually a short meeting, its purpose being merely to fulfil a requirement of the Companies Acts, but all members of the Institution are welcome to attend. Those wishing to do so are advised to inform the office, so that we can ensure you are admitted to the building. A summary of the Institution’s accounts for the financial year ending 31 May 2004, as presented to our auditors, is available in the members’ area of the Institution Web site.

Jeremy Gibbons, of Oxford University Computing Laboratory, talks about part-time Postgraduate Study in Software Engineering at the University of Oxford. This programme has IAP Education Partner status.

Commercial pressure to produce higher-quality software is increasing. Success for the enterprise, and for the individual, depends upon timely delivery, cost-effective development, and an understanding of customers’ needs. In a changing employment situation, many find themselves taking major decisions in areas outside their formal education. Electrical engineers are writing more and more software. Professionals in scientific disciplines have been writing short programs for years; now they must interface and interact on an unprecedented scale. Some find themselves in an advanced computing environment despite having no university-level education at all. Even those with computing degrees find themselves out of touch with new developments from time to time. The Software Engineering Programme at the University of Oxford teaches the skills and the understanding needed to meet these challenges. The Programme offers a number of intensive modules, covering a wide range of topics. Each module is taught as a single week of lectures, classes, exercises, case studies and practicals. The model is very similar to that of an industrial training course, with the added opportunity to reinforce learning with a post-module assignment, worked on during the six weeks following the module. The modules may be taken on a stand-alone basis, or used as credit towards a Postgraduate Certificate, a Postgraduate Diploma, or an MSc in Software Engineering. The MSc also requires the completion of an individual project, written up in a dissertation.

Theory and Practice. Though the ideas from most of the modules find ready application in the students’ normal work, each module aims to do more than simply train participants in a particular skill. Instead, we give an insight into the deeper principles: those ideas that will outlast current technologies and continue to inform technical decisions in a decade’s time. A key example of such a module is “Software Engineering Mathematics”, taken by many students as their first module. The module is about logic and set theory, functions and relations, bags and sequences, types and methods of description. Although at first blush these topics seem distant from industrial practice, students frequently comment on how much the module has changed the way they think about writing software. A similar story can be told for the module “Database Design”: this does not limit itself to current database technology, but goes on to relate this to the underlying principles of structured data representation and transformation.

Module Themes. Two specific research areas, currently finding ready application in industry, have led to specialisms within the overall Programme. One is object orientation; five such modules are offered, and are very well subscribed. Besides modules in object-oriented programming and design, advanced options include a study of design patterns and of distributed objects. The other area is computer security, in which there are already three modules offered, and two more planned. Particular modules focus on topics such cryptography and security protocols, human issues in security, risk analysis and management, and practical patterns and toolkits for design and for implementation. These core elements are complemented by a large range of optional advanced modules, in subjects ranging from management and quality to performance modelling: from requirements analysis to Web services.

Participation. The modules are taught by academics and computing professionals from Oxford University Computing Laboratory, a world centre for research, development and exploitation of computing science. Many ideas in computing have been developed at Oxford and these are reflected in the courses offered. The Programme has a dedicated teaching facility in the centre of Oxford and students on the MSc are fully matriculated members of the University. The Programme is organised by Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, which offers opportunities for part-time and short-term study to those for whom a prolonged period of study may not be possible. The department has a long tradition of providing courses for non-traditional students. Software Engineering was the first of a number of courses now available, which suit professionals in various fields, looking for advanced study and qualifications. The majority of students on the Programme are sponsored by their employers. Typically, students take between three and four years to complete an MSc, taking three or four modules each year, so the commitment is substantial on both sides. For some years the Programme has been running a bursary scheme funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to pay part of the fees for employees of small and medium sized enterprises and it is hoped that this facility can be continued in the future. The Web site www.softeng.ox.ac.uk has full details and contact information.

[Don’t forget to email eo@iap.org.uk with items of news about you or your company.]

Comments are closed.