Watts Humphrey, a 2003 recipient of The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s National Medal of Technology, and fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and Software Engineering Institute, died Thursday in his Sarasota, Fla. home. He was 83.
Often called the “Father of Software Quality,” Humphrey dedicated the majority of his career to addressing problems in software development, including schedule delays, cost increases, performance problems and defects, according to a news release issued by the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI).
Humphrey also established the Software Process Program at the SEI, which he joined in 1986 after heading the IBM development team that introduced the first software license.
In an early 2010 interview, Humphrey said he went to the SEI because “changing the world of anything is an outrageous personal commitment… I knew I couldn’t do it alone, and I wanted to be in an environment where I could work with folks that do that.”
Humphrey was born on July 4, 1927 in Battle Creek, Mich. His father, whom he was named after, moved his family to New England. As a young child, Humphrey had a difficult time reading, requiring one-on-one help in school. He later learned he had dyslexia.
Humphrey graduated valedictorian of his high school class and served in the United States Navy. Afterwards, he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Chicago, received a master’s degree in physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and an MBA from his alma mater, the University of Chicago. Humphrey met his wife Barbara while working for lighting manufacturer Sylvania in Boston. They married in 1954, later having seven children and 11 grandchildren
Humphrey worked nearly three decades at IBM, serving as a director of programming and as vice president of technical development, where he supervised 4,000 software professionals in 15 laboratories across seven countries.
While at SEI, Humphrey led the development of the Software Capability Model, and introduced the Software Process Assessment and Software Capability Evaluation methods. This work later became the basis for the development of the Capability Maturity Model Integration, a framework of software engineering best practices, the SEI said.
Afterwards, his focus turned to the development of the Team Software Process, an approach that teaches the skills needed to make and track plans, and to produce high-quality software with zero defects, said the SEI. Adobe, Intuit, Oracle and other leading software organizations have since used TSP.
Larry Druffel, the SEI’s director and CEO from 1986 to 1996, said, “We all understood the importance of things like version control, configuration management and methodology, but I don’t think anyone knew how to put that into a transferable form. That’s what Watts did for the field of software engineering. There were enough people criticizing his approach, but he stayed with it and made it work.”
Also an author of 12 books, Humphrey recently spoke with SD Times about his latest book, “Reflections in Management” and his experiences on how software projects should be managed.
Sarah Humphrey, his daughter, told the SEI that her father tried to teach all of the children how to sail. During her lesson, she refused to take the tiller from him, she said.
“So he jumped off the boat and swam ashore. That was just great. I took the tiller,” she recalled. “He would always say, ‘Never say I can’t; say I can.’ ”