|February 22, 2010 |
Worldwide Demand for Systems Engineers
Have you ever visited an airport and wondered how such an incredible array of technology manages to work seamlessly and safely? Perhaps you’ve been to a doctor’s office where your medical records are viewed in an exciting new software program that interfaces your current examination with patient history. Or consider the military which constantly develops and implements new software and technology keeping thousands of soldiers safe across the world.
Who develops and coordinates these complex systems? How does it all work together, and who accounts for all of the different components, system functionality and reliability issues? The answer is systems engineers. And the demand for them continues to grow. In fact, systems engineers are among the most highly sought after professionals and were recently labeled as the #1 job field in America in a recent article on CNN Money.
The Current Challenge in Systems Engineering
While systems engineers can expect tremendous opportunities and job satisfaction, the dramatic growth has also resulted in the need to establish guidelines that align the skills and knowledge of outgoing graduates with industry. The challenges facing the development of systems engineers in industry and academia include:
- Systems engineers have only recently grown out of a primarily niche market in Aerospace & Defense and are now utilized by nearly every industry.
- As a discipline that requires a holistic approach to resolving many complex issues, systems engineers need to be well versed in a variety of skills.
- The systems which they manage continue to expand at a rapid pace, and employers need to be assured that a graduate is ready to tackle the challenges of today’s marketplace.
Dr. Arthur Pyster - Professor
Dr. Pyster served as the Senior Vice President and Director of Systems Engineering and Integration for SAIC. Earlier, Dr. Pyster served as the Deputy Chief Information Officer for the Federal Aviation Administration where he: oversaw information technology investment and policy; operated the agency’s information security program; created the agency’s enterprise architecture; operated their process improvement program; and achieved a “green” score on the President’s Management Agenda.
Dr. Arthur Pyster of Stevens Institute of Technology is establishing globally recognized guidelines and recommendations that act as a foundation on which schools everywhere can build systems engineering programs to fulfill the ever growing demand for qualified professionals.
One of the major issues surrounding systems engineering curriculum development is the lack of a body of knowledge or the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up the professional domain. Establishing this body of knowledge is a primary objective of Dr. Arthur Pyster’s research and will allow for the development of subsequent standards and curriculum guidelines.
The Body of Knowledge and Curriculum to Advance Systems Engineering (BKCASE) is the product of these efforts and will achieve a number of goals through a defined series of steps.
- First, Dr. Pyster established an author team that consists of a specific, diverse, cross section of knowledge leaders in areas ranging from government & defense, industry and academia. These authors will meet to express their individual key ideas that define the boundaries and context of both systems and software engineers.
- Dr. Pyster and his author team will then draft curriculum recommendations.
- Initial versions of the curriculum recommendations will then be reviewed by the broad systems engineering community world-wide. Modifications will be made in subsequent versions by Dr. Pyster and his team, which will then sent out for more review.
Ultimately, the reference curriculum guidelines will be managed by professional societies who become the “stewards” and help universities to implement these recommendations in their own academic programs.
Taking the Lead from Software Engineering
One of the keys to success is Dr. Pyster’s past experience in similar research that focused on software engineering.
The Graduate Software Engineering 2009: Curriculum Guidelines for Graduate Degree Programs in Software Engineering (GSwE2009) successfully identified the requirements for a software engineering graduate program, such as the one offered at Stevens.
The process of organizing author meetings, presenting documentation for review, making subsequent changes and ultimately having the guidelines purveyed by professional societies is exactly what Dr. Pyster successfully implemented with GSwE2009, and the steps outlined below serve as a model for his future objectives for systems engineering.
Developing a Reference Curriculum for Software Engineering
Devanandham Henry Ph.D. Candidate
Devanandham was a scientist with the Aeronautical Develop- ment Agency of India, Ministry of Defense, for nine years before joining Stevens in late Fall 2006.
Over a span of three years, Dr. Pyster led a team of more than 40 authors from around the world to define what students should know and what they should be capable of doing when they graduate with a master’s degree in software engineering. Notable authors included representatives from the ACM, IEEE Computer Society, INCOSE, as well as representatives from the Brazilian Computer Society and the U.S. National Defense Industrial Association Systems Engineering Division.
Forming a Process
Together, they met in workshops approximately every 3 months and produced incremental versions of curriculum recommendations and guidelines which were reviewed by the software engineering community for consideration and revision in subsequent workshops. Devanandham Henry, a Ph.D. candidate for Systems Engineering at Stevens played a significant role in the first year of GSwE2009 and was responsible for “doing the extensive data collection & interviews with professors from so many universities; arranging and supporting the many team meetings and workshops; and supporting the author teams in the preparation of various sections for documentation.” Working with Dr. Pyster, Devanandham saw firsthand the tremendous effort put forth from students, faculty and volunteers.
Kahina was a research assistant for GSwERC2009 (the Graduate software Engineering Reference Curriculum) where she handled project logistics and coordination.
Upon completing the research and analysis, the curriculum guide GSwERC2009 was released. GSwERC2009 defines specific elements to be included in a strong graduate software engineering program anywhere in the world. Kahina Lasfer, a Ph.D. candidate working with Dr. Pyster, served as a research assistant for GSwERC2009 where she helped to define “new understandings on how to build software; how software engineering depends on systems engineering; and how software engineering education is influenced by specific technological domains.”
GSwE2009 recommendations help define the specific knowledge on a variety of topics for a well-prepared graduate.
Applying the Template to Systems Engineering
Now, that they have completed their work in developing a software engineering graduate reference curriculum Dr. Pyster in conjunction with Dr. David Olwell from the Naval Postgraduate School is applying a similar process to develop a graduate reference curriculum for systems engineering.
Alice has over twenty-eight years of experience, the five most recent years focused in academia as she completes her doctorate. Prior to entering academia, she served as a Senior Systems Engineer consultant to Lockheed Martin, IBM, and EDO Ceramics, for Advanced Systems Supportability Engineering Technology Tools (ASSETT), Inc.
As mentioned previously, however, systems engineering does not have an existing body of knowledge. Remember that systems engineering is a relatively new discipline, so not only must his team develop curriculum standards, they must establish the underlying body of knowledge.
Because of the crucial importance of having an established body of knowledge for a given discipline, authors have initially focused on its development. Begun in September of 2009, “BKCASE already has 30 authors from 6 continents who are drafting the first version of the body of knowledge for release in summer 2010,” says Dr. Pyster. The body of knowledge will be critical in determining what a professional systems engineer should know in order to be certified or to assist a company in establishing a career path for systems engineers.
Alice Squires, a systems engineering faculty and Ph.D. candidate at Stevens who works with Dr. Pyster, is excited to see the creation of standards and principles in her specialty. With an extensive industry background including working at companies like General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and IBM, Alice sees the true benefit of these efforts, “myself and other systems engineers on the authoring team are personally motivated to contribute towards this goal because we want to see it – to the point where we are willing to volunteer time and effort in order to see these documents produced.”
This sort of desire to see results is a critical asset in Dr. Pyster’s efforts. “Art has taken on a very difficult challenge in working with diverse personalities, and is able to motivate and encourage cooperation to work towards this challenge while individually respecting each member,” says Alice.
The initial BKCASE author team is relying on significant volunteer enthusiasm. The team is excited about continued research and the ultimate development of curriculum guidelines.
Next Steps for Systems Engineering
Throughout the GSwE2009 and BKCASE efforts, Dr. Pyster has maintained the position that documents created will initially be owned and managed by the authors. The ultimate goal is for professional societies to become the “stewards” or purveyors of these recommendations, and adopt their continued evolution.
GSwE2009 guidelines have already been picked up by the ACM and the IEEE Computer society. The hope is that the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) and the IEEE will do the same for BKCASE.
The research being done by Dr. Pyster for both software and systems engineering curriculum guidelines has the potential to support these high-growth fields and ensure their continued success as technology continues to advance. He makes use of a diverse range of skill sets to not only organize and track information, but produce specific recommendations that have the potential to efficiently align graduate programs across the world with the exact needs of industry.
For more information on BKCASE and GSwE2009, please visit the sites below:
To learn more about Software and Systems Engineering visit the Systems and Enterprises website.
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