Software engineering has again become among the most highly rated fields of endeavor, based on a number of forecasts for 2011. But Bruce Douglass, chief evangelist for IBM Rational, said that college students are not being taught the life skills necessary for gaining a competitive advantage in the field.

Douglass said he has observed this in visits to customers, and he thinks that software engineering students in schools should be taught collaborative methods, project planning and project management, as well as “agile methods, modeling [like UML and SML], and the economics of project management [what it means to start a project and how to innovate].”

Professors at Marist College, the Stevens Institute of Technology and Drew University all had different ideas on how to combat this issue. Some offer real-world projects. Others simulate actual problem sets. And still others have advisory councils of vendors to preside over the curriculum decisions.

Professors need to teach students “the importance of distributed, collaborative teams and the 24/7 work schedule that students often have to deal with now” that they are in the workforce, Douglass said. He added that students also need to understand the human factor of users interacting with systems and programs, instead of just learning how to maintain and create code.

William Thirsk, vice president and CIO at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said the college works with “captains of industry” to form an advisory board to discuss the direction of the curriculum. The college also teaches agile methods to help students understand the new workplace environment.

“We speak with hardware and software vendors (IBM, Cisco) to ask them what the students should learn. We meet twice a year to discuss changes,” Thirsk said.

He added that Marist offers “virtual management courses,” which prepare students to compete globally by offering training in collaboration tools (such as wiki boards) and in development tools to learn how to maintain teams, push code along and generate reports for other members of the team. They also use open-source programs in their classes, something Barry Burd, a professor at Drew University in Madison, N.J., agrees with.

“We tend to use agility methods and give our students practice with applications from outside clients,” he said. “Agile is not a hard and fast rule for the college. It’s taught by professor preference. Students get to do about five projects [five semester-long courses] in their undergraduate education. Most projects are created for small-business companies that are located around the college.”

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