An Assessment of Software Engineering Body of Knowledge Efforts

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Abstract or Description

In May 1999 the ACM Council adopted a resolution both reaffirming ACM’s commitment to solving the software quality problem and also stating its opposition to licensing software engineers, on the grounds that licensing is premature and would be ineffective in addressing the software quality problem. ACM Council also affirmed its interest in developing a core body of knowledge for software engineering, which is often viewed as an appealing step toward improving software quality. Our committee was formed to study the existing software engineering body of knowledge efforts — including SWEBOK, with which ACM is involved through the joint IEEE CS/ACM Software Engineering Coordinating Committee (SWECC). Our charge was to determine the status, progress, and likely outcome of these fforts. This report documents our findings, our reasoning, and our conclusions. Our study and analysis has led us to the conclusion that the current software engineering body of knowledge efforts, including SWEBOK, are at best unlikely to achieve a goal of critical importance to ACM: the ability to provide appropriate assurances of software quality for software systems of public interest. Although the body of knowledge efforts may possibly make progress towards other stated and unstated objectives, we believe that ACM’s continued participation in the SWEBOK effort will not further — and indeed, may distract from — efforts to improve software quality, especially for systems of public interest. It would be consistent with our analysis for the ACM Council to choose to withdraw ACM from further involvement with SWEBOK, largely because of the danger of pursuing a path that might well provide false assurances to the public. Furthermore, we are uncertain whether, at present, there exists any process to articulate a core body of knowledge in software engineering that will directly contribute to the solution of the software quality problem. At a minimum, a conceptually clear and generally accepted organizing principle is a necessary pre-condition to the effective articulation of such a software engineering body of knowledge. No compelling organizing principle exists at present, and we see no clear course of action that would be likely to lead to one in the next few years.