Today, America’s businesses, government and infrastructure rely on secure software, and there is increasing recognition that vulnerabilities in the design or code of software can jeopardize intellectual property, consumer trust and business operations and services. Stevens has responded with a new and vital educational mission: preparing America’s future software engineers to build reliable and secure software.
To this end, last fall the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sponsored the creation of Stevens’ new Software Assurance program, which is part of its Software Engineering department and promotes the development and management of trusted software systems. Students in the Software Assurance concentration learn how to build secure software systems and identify and prevent security vulnerabilities in code. Through partnerships with various governmental agencies like the U.S. Department of the Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, they are trained to work with major contractors like Lockheed Martin on the next generation of secure software that will aide in our nation’s safety. They also learn to build secure “apps” for smartphones and tablets, reflecting the growth in the marketplace for this type of software. Stevens currently offers graduate certificates and a master’s degree in the Software Assurance concentration.
“We are of the mindset that people ought to build software that cannot be hacked – systems free of security problems,” said Mark Ardis, Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Software Engineering. “There is a set of skills needed to build that.”
“We emphasize the development and need for trusted systems,” added Linda Laird, Professor and Director of Software Engineering. “An education from Stevens means the ability to create software that is reliable, secure, safe and resilient.”
According to Laird, the Software Assurance program is fortunate to include faculty members that have actively participated in the field.
“They have actually built systems and have the wounds that prove it,” she said.
The addition of curricula focused on building secure software reflects the longstanding tradition of Stevens’ Software Engineering program to prepare students to meet the needs of an ever-changing marketplace. Its master’s degree and graduate certificates in Software Engineering are designed to give students the opportunity and knowledge to create anything from a network like Facebook to software that powers automobiles – whatever the market needs most at each moment in time. Faculty and administrators constantly tap into alumni from across the industry spectrum to understand the areas of greatest need and how to best position graduates to enter the workforce. In the last ten years, agility in the field has become increasingly important, and Stevens has continued to modify its software engineering program to meet real-world demand for software engineers equipped to work in telecommunications, finance, homeland security and other growing industries. And according to Ardis, most students who graduate from the Software Engineering program enter the workforce for a short time before pursuing a master’s degree, ensuring they have the real-world experience to make the most of advanced study in the field.
The field of software engineering itself likewise grew from the need to more effectively address real-world software development challenges in the 1960s through better organization. As the field of computer science advanced and more and more new software was created and manufactured, processes were needed to design, implement, modify and manage software systems to ensure there were high quality, affordable, maintainable and fast to build.
“Building software needed to be approached in the same way bridges and buildings are developed,” said Ardis. “This was necessary so people could rely on what we made.”
Stevens’ software engineering program – one of 60 across the U.S. – takes a systems-oriented approach to building software products and embedding software in existing products. It teaches the latest and best software engineering skills and theory to allow students to effectively architect build and maintain both complex and simple software-intensive systems.
“Software engineers are the glue that brings these systems together,” Ardis said.