Messages from the Director

ISR Director Prof. Sam MalekAn increasingly important concern for many software organizations is the accrual of technical debt in their software systems. Technical debt is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy (limited) solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer. Technical debt may manifest itself in any software engineering artifact, such as architectural models, source code, and tests. By accruing technical debt, a software system becomes increasingly difficult and costly to develop and maintain over time.

ISR Director Prof. Sam MalekWe have had many exciting accomplishments and activities at ISR in the past few months that you will read about in this edition of the ISR Connector. Notably, ISR organized and sponsored the first Southern California Software Engineering Symposium (SuCSES), which was held on June 7. This symposium replaces the ISR Research Forum which was held annually for almost 20 years. SuCSES caters to researchers and practitioners with an interest in software from all over Southern California. This is not our first edition of a regional forum as such.

It is my great honor to take over leadership of ISR from Prof. Cristina Lopes. Crista has moved on to take up the directorship of a new Professional Master degree in Software Engineering, MSWE, within the school of ICS. Crista served as director of ISR from July 2017 through June 2018. I am grateful for her leadership during that time. A change in directorship always brings with it both new challenges and opportunities. As before, ISR plans to continue to support important research in software engineering and give its faculty, students, alumni, industry, and friends a sense of community. Moreover, ISR aims to explore a tight collaboration with the upcoming MSWE program, serving as a liaison between the students in the program and high-tech industry partners.

It my pleasure to welcome two new faculty members to the Institute for Software Research: Dr. Joshua Garcia and Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed. They both join the School of ICS as Assistant Professors in the general area of Software Engineering. Dr. Joshua Garcia has been a post-doctoral researcher working with Prof. Sam Malek. His research is in security and quality of software, especially in the mobile domain. Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed comes to us from Oregon State University, where he received his Ph.D. His research interests combine software testing, analysis, and machine learning. We are very excited to have them both join ISR, and wish them great success here at UCI!

Interim Director Prof. Cristina Videira LopesFor all who read the ISR Connector newsletter, you will notice that this space has a new author: me. As of July 1st, 2017, Prof. Richard (Dick) Taylor retired from the directorship; I have the honor of being Interim Director for this academic year. Under Dick’s leadership, ISR was a solid rock that supported important research in software engineering and computer-supported cooperative work; it gave faculty, students, alumni, industry, and friends a sense of community. I plan to continue what Dick started, and will support research in topics that are especially relevant today. Cybersecurity is one of those topics.

ISR Director Richard N. TaylorOn July 1 of this year Professor Crista Lopes became the Interim Director of the Institute for Software Research. Crista has served as Associate Director during this past year and will be leading ISR forward. I am very happy with this transition, as it will provide new energy to ISR as it expands in new directions. Crista is eminently qualified. She is a Distinguished Scientist of the ACM, the premier professional computer science association, and a Senior Member of the IEEE.

Cybersecurity has moved from an occasional-but-unnerving news item to a persistent, pervasive concern.  As the White House has made clear, “cybersecurity is one of the most important challenges we face as a Nation.  Advances in cybersecurity science and engineering are urgently needed to preserve the Internet’s social and economic benefits.”  Neither Southern California, nor our Nation, is where it needs to be to protect against trade secret and other theft, compromise of private information, threats to our critical infrastructure, and, most recently, attempts to influence democratic processes.  We believe that this is one of the grand technical and policy challenges of our time.

The ISR Research Forum held at UCI in late May of this year was highlighted by two keynote addresses, one by Dr. Eric Dashofy from The Aerospace Corporation and the other by Dr. Marija Mikic from Google, Inc. Though titled differently and addressing somewhat different concerns the two talks both fundamentally addressed how software can be, and is being, built in industry today. Software architecture was a common theme, but with two very different takes: Dashofy highlighted the limits imposed on principle-driven design by the ever-encroaching maw of frameworks; Mikic highlighted how up-front, clear, documented design coupled with an admirably comprehensive development process rules the day within Google. The ensuing discussion centered around what corporate and/or financial characteristics need to be in place before a “doing it right” approach is both feasible and cost-effective.

It used to be that only an absolute monarch like Louis XIV of France would have the temerity to say, “The state, it is I.”  Now everybody is in on the act.

“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Perhaps you saw the news headlines in late July that the Social Security Administration has spent close to $300 million to procure a system known as the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS). According to a letter to the SSA from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “The DCPS project was intended to improve case processing quality, enhance customer service, and reduce administrative costs among SSA and state disability determination services.” But unfortunately the letter goes on to say, “While the Committee supports modernizing antiquated technology, the DCPS project is costly and years behind schedule.” Because of problems with the procurement, McKinsey & Company was hired to investigate. Their report notes “the project has permanently been in `beta,’ meaning a pre-release version.” Indeed. According to the McKinsey report, now available in redacted form on the House Committee’s website, “For [the] past 5 years, Release 1.0 [is] consistently projected to be 24-32 months away.” The House letter and the redacted report never mention who the prime vendor on the procurement is, but it is easy to ascertain. Recalling my commentary in the previous issue of the ISR Connector noting some failures of a CMMI Level 5 organization at the heart of the healthcare.gov fiasco, you might think you know where this SSA story is going to end up. Well, not exactly. While the parent organization advertises in a slide deck from 2012 that it is “CMMI Level 5,” a closer study reveals that the sub-group within that parent organization that has been doing the work was assessed at level 3 in 2013.

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