SEI Celebrates 20 Years of Software Engineering Excellence


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General Interest

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: February 1, 2005

The year was 1984. President Ronald Reagan was elected to his second term in office. The Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles with tennis great Steffi Graf winning a gold medal and the U.S. being introduced to gymnastics phenomenon Mary Lou Retton. The Cosby Show and Miami Vice were on television, and the first Indiana Jones movie was in theaters.

1984 also marked dramatic and profound advances in information technology. Apple introduced its Macintosh computer; there were roughly 1,000 users on the Internet; Dr. Paul Mockapetris and Jonathan Postel were working on the domain name system (DNS), and the U.S. military portion of the ARPAnet was broken off as a separate network, the MILNET.

And in December 1984, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) awarded a contract to Carnegie Mellon University to establish the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). The purpose of this institute was to study software as a technology and software engineering as an emerging discipline.

Two years earlier, the DoD launched a software initiative with three deliverables, one of which was a Software Engineering Institute. The contract for the SEI was opened to competitive bidding—a first for a federally funded research and development center—and 40 institutions submitted proposals. Led by Dr. Angel Jordan, then Carnegie Mellon provost and later SEI director, the university drew on its strength and reputation in computer science and its long-term vision for the institute. Carnegie Mellon also distinguished itself from the other competitors in that it intended to put all of the SEI’s operations on one campus.

The SEI’s first office, located in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Shadyside, opened its doors in January 1985 and originally employed 55 people, including 12 managerial staff and 19 researchers. Experts from government, academia, and industry brought significant technical capabilities and experience to the SEI’s research team.

In 1987, employees moved into the current headquarters on Fifth Avenue in Oakland. At its opening celebration, former Carnegie Mellon President Dick Cyert said at the time that “the aim of the institute is to find the techniques to increase the productivity of software programmers. It is in the supply and quality of software programmers that our society is deficient. We have not fully appreciated their importance…I believe we do now, and that this institute symbolizes this effort.”

The SEI has grown significantly in its 20 years. The institute continues to hire the best of the best in the field and has become the preeminent institute in software engineering. The SEI currently has more than 500 employees with office locations in Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Huntsville, AL, and Frankfurt, Germany.

Since 1996, the SEI has been organized into technical initiatives in process management, software-intensive systems, and network security. The SEI is best known for two major innovations: the development of the Capability Maturity Modeling framework for software process improvement and the establishment of the CERT Coordination Center (CERT/CC) in 1988.

The SEI has also influenced the design and acquisition of software-intensive systems. In one significant area of SEI research, the SEI has identified how organizations can reuse the labors of software development work in the form of software product lines and how decisions about software architecture affect the long-term viability of a product or system. The SEI is also identifying and maturing software engineering methods and techniques for broad-based and sustained integration and interoperability across components, systems, and systems of systems. Through the SEI’s Acquisition Support Program, the SEI is also helping the DoD and other government acquirers improve the acquisition of software-intensive systems.

Celebrating Today and the Future

As the SEI celebrates its 20th anniversary, the SEI will honor those who established the SEI, those who have provided guidance and leadership, and long-time employees.

In January, distinguished guests from Carnegie Mellon, Pennsylvania congressional leaders, current and former members of the SEI Board of Visitors, and SEI past directors joined SEI Director and CEO Paul D. Nielsen at the Renaissance Hotel in Pittsburgh to commemorate the SEI’s 20th anniversary. Keynote speakers included Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon, Carnegie Mellon Provost Mark Kamlet, SEI Chief Operating Officer Clyde Chittister, and past Directors Larry Druffel and Julia Allen.

SEI 20th Anniversary Celebration

Nielsen attributes the SEI’s far-reaching influence to strong leadership and support from the DoD, the Board of Visitors, and Carnegie Mellon leadership. Cohon told the guests that “the SEI has partnered with many organizations and enhanced the name of Carnegie Mellon worldwide. The SEI is a world-class institute. We [Carnegie Mellon] are very proud of the SEI and its commitment to advancing the state of the practice of software engineering.”

Nielsen stated that while the SEI still has a Department of Defense focus, the SEI’s influence has spread throughout the world. “Today, software drives economic growth and competitiveness. It plays a crucial role in a nation’s security,” Nielsen said. “The SEI is helping improve the state of the practice of software and systems engineering. The SEI is truly an outstanding organization, and I feel very fortunate to be part of it as we begin the next 20 years of success.”

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