Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Principles and Practices Exam Specification to Support Software Engineering Licensure in the United States of America

The first quarter 2013, Volume 15 Issue 1, issue of Software Quality Professional from the American Society for Quality has a couple of articles on the state mandated licensing of software engineers, that I have been chronicling.

A Principles and Practices Exam Specification to Support Software Engineering Licensure in the United States of America (PDF, 142 KB) by Phillip Laplante, Beth Kalinowski, and Mitchell Thornton, along with some Supplementary Material (PDF, 483 KB).
Software Quality Professional has published many open access articles over the years, alas these are not among them, you must be a ASQ member to read them, this only serves to reinforce my view that this whole licensing issue is all about making money for those that sell training material.
Summary: In April 2013 several states in the United States will require licensure for certain individuals who are involved in the creation of software that can affect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. It is expected that eventually, all states and jurisdictions in the United States will require such licensure. Each state has different licensure criteria, but all include certain educational and experiential requirements, passing two tests, with one being a common test of engineering fundamentals, and the other a test of minimal competency in relevant areas of software engineering knowledge and practice. While the common test of engineering fundamentals exists, the software engineering examination does not. In order to develop this examination, the authors conducted a study using a multimethod approach in identifying the professional activities and knowledge/skills that are important to the competent performance of software engineers who serve the public. In this article the authors describe the study, the results, and the test specification that was derived. Demographic information for the survey respondents is also presented.

I'll summarize some of the highlights. The article opens by telling us that many engineers are exempted from licensure such as industrial or government entities. This reinforces what I said in my first article, this is about killing off the independent contractors and those with no formal degrees (Maryland does have a non-degree path to licensing, and other states will recognize Maryland's license). Also the information that I have gathered and posted about what each state is doing is up to date, where the cited material in the article is from 2010.
Most of the article is about how the statistics and sampling methods used to come up with the areas for the test, based on the format of The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, coming up with these main categories:
  1. Requirements
  2. Design
  3. Construction
  4. Testing
  5. Maintenance
  6. Configuration management
  7. Engineering processes
  8. Quality assurance
  9. Safety, security, and privacy
Those categories were deemed the most important of those surveyed from IEEE-CS and IEEE USA, of which only 323 people participated. Apparently few to none of those returning the survey are doing firmware nor Embedded Systems. We need to have more representation in those groups? Personally I aways find it troubling that groups that I have no representation in are creating rules that affect my life. On the other hand I personally have no desire to participate in nor support such groups.
Data analysis by respondent subgroups was in some cases based on job title. This is ironic considering the Texas Board of Professional Engineers, one of the main groups behind licensing, states:
"The best way to avoid problems is to practice title abstinence." - What Do You Mean I Can't Call Myself a Software Engineer? by John R. Speed.
The supplemental material goes into detail about the demographics of the survey respondents.
Then we have this final nugget, saying that whole process may be improperly biased:
Finally, there is controversy as to the need for professional licensure and it is possible that those who disagreed with the need for licensure opted out of the survey upon receiving an invitation, thus biasing the results somehow.
Myself I would have abandoned this approach when I found that there was only a 7.36 percent participation. Guess if you have an agenda to push such things don't matter...
The Institute for Software Excellence 2013 (Indianapolis, May 6-8), sponsored by the ASQ Software Division, is planing to have a session on the professional licensing topic presented by Professor Laplante. The ISE website has not been updated as I write this with the exact details.