Essence and Problem Solving Blog

November 16, 2019

Let’s start a conversation on integrating Essence into day to day activities as a thinking framework and general problem-solving tool

I received a question on the title of last week’s blog– “The value of listening to people who think differently from yourself.

To clarify, if it wasn’t already clear to you, there are two distinct groups of people I was referring to.  First, are the SEMAT volunteers from around the world who shared their different perspectives based on their own experiences and culture.  The second group is the reviewers of my “Shy Boys” book who– as I explained in the blog– shared their own experiences and perspectives in helping me write a better book.

This week I would like to start a conversation (or get your feedback) on an idea I received from one of those book reviewers that really appeals to me, and I am particularly interested in hearing the thoughts from those of you who are in the education field.

This reviewer was a software developer in industry and had gone back to the university to teach software engineering to our next generation of software professionals.

Let me first give you some context for the reviewer’s comment.

In Chapter Fifteen of the book I refer to a discussion I had with Watts Humphrey shortly before his passing in 2010 and I state:

Part of training in how to act professionally includes how to listen, learn, improve and work collaboratively as a team member. These essential elements to software engineering success are found within the Essence framework Team Alpha checklists.”

This reviewer made the following related comment:

“Most Computer Science programs have a Software Engineering class, but the common issue is that the ideas are isolated within that particular class. In many programs, mine included, the software engineering class  is presented in the third year, after the basics are taught. You highlighted in this book the idea that you believed Watts wanted to make sure graduates had the proper attitude. One class in a computer science degree, as I learned over the years, doesn’t influence students enough to keep it present. I think we need to take a wholistic approach… We need a curriculum that integrates these ideas into the day to day activities without having to detail the activity in a text. While I was pleased that you and your colleagues produced a textbook, I think it might be more helpful to use “stealth mode” within the classroom environment. How to accomplish this could be your next book!”

 This comment got me thinking about how such a “wholistic approach” might be implemented in a university environment and one idea that occurred to me was to use Essence as a thinking framework to aid problem-solving in multiple computer science courses.

Just to provide a few examples where I think Essence could be integrated into existing courses, consider the fact that most computer science curriculums today have distinct courses in Cybersecurity, Computer Ethics, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, and Software Requirements/Design/Testing.

Each of the computer science courses mentioned above provides its own unique perspective into critical challenges related to developing software.  Each of these perspectives brings its own set of common problems, or challenges, that students need to be exposed to, and learn how to go about dealing with in a professional way.

As a common ground for all software engineering endeavors, Essence could be used in each of these classes to demonstrate to students how to go about analyzing such challenges, identifying related root causes, and assessing options and consequences of possible decisions.

What I am suggesting could provide a path to achieving the “wholistic approach” my reviewer referred to by helping to teach our next generation of software practitioners what it means to act professionally when it comes to the common challenges they are likely to face when they enter industry.

One potential advantage to this idea is that it doesn’t require university professors to make major changes to their existing course curriculums as Essence is integrated into the existing course material as a tool that aids critical thinking and problem-solving.  This approach also can help students learn practical ways to use Essence to address common challenges they are likely to face in industry.

Another potential advantage to this idea ties back to one of the potential problems we are trying to solve with Essence as I state in Chapter One of my “Shy Boys” book.  That is, the fact that “there isn’t commonly accepted software engineering terminology so when new graduates come out of school with computer science degrees and go into industry they have a whole new set of terms to learn, and then if they change  jobs and move to another company they  have to relearn a whole new set again.”

By integrating Essence into multiple computer science courses as a thinking framework and general problem-solving tool we can continually reinforce the Essence standard terminology so it becomes the natural language of choice for new graduating computer science students as they enter industry.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this idea, particularly from those of you within the education field.

If you believe this idea might have merit, I am also interested in hearing about any specific problem scenarios you may be currently using, or thinking about using, in your course material.

We can then use such scenarios to continue this conversation by providing practical demonstrations of the power of Essence as an aid to critical thinking and problem-solving related to these timely computer science topics.

To be clear, what I am suggesting is not intended to replace a first course in Software Engineering using Essence, but rather to show how Essence can be effectively integrated into other common computer science courses as an aid to critical thinking and as a general problem-solving tool.

Looking forward to hearing your feedback and keeping this conversation going!

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