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Software expert and SEI Fellow discusses "The Impact of Scale on Software Engineering"

Linda Northrop, Chief Scientist of the Software Solutions Division of Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) delivered the year's 2nd Dean's Lecture Series talk on November 15th at 1pm in the Golisano Hall Auditorium. The Chief Scientist of the Software Solutions Division of Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) discussed "ultra-large-scale systems" that can include massive and cumbersome batches of code, but also "systems that operate across dimensions - number of people employing the system for different purposes; amount of data stored, accessed, manipulated, and refined; number of connections and interdependencies among software components; number of hardware elements to which they interface."

Northrop opened the talk by expressing her admiration for RIT's focus on applied research stating, "you do what we [at SEI] do, bringing research into the real world and bringing it back to improve upon it." Northrop discussed the inception of SEI and how talks with then-Assistant Secretary of the Army, Claude Bolten, led to funding for SEI and the beginning of research into scalable systems. "We realized we needed not just software engineers and computer scientists, but people from other disiplines because it's not just about software, it's about systems in the world we live in. We needed people from busines, people from psychology, people from human-computer interaction..." 

Northrop offered a number of examples of these ultra-large-systems including the Homeland Security network which requires "cameras, sensors, handheld devices," and many other elements with interdependencies, as well as healthcare.gov, the much maligned new website which Northrop explained, needed to communicate with social security information, insurance providers and many other stakeholders. Northrop highlighted the need for decentralized systems and the value of employing different actors to address problems of scale. "If you think about Wikipedia, very few people are at the helm," she said. "In new systems people become part of the system." In a final note to students in attendance Northrop stated: "this generation is very accepting and you [the millenials] have created the crowd - crowdsourcing, and things like Reddit and Github."

The next DLS talk is slated for March 14th, with Intel's Genevieve Bell.