GMU Software Engineering Seminar Series

Speaker: Lionel C. Briand

Revised Title: Useful Software Engineering Research: Leading a Double-Agent Life

Date/Time: Thursday, 9/29/2011 @ 12pm

Location: 4201, Engineering Building

Host: Jeff Offutt

Food: Pizza/Soda

Revised Abstract:

Though in essence an engineering discipline, software engineering research has always been struggling to demonstrate impact. This is reflected in part by the funding challenges that the discipline faces in many countries, the difficulties we have to attract industrial participants to our conferences, and the scarcity of papers reporting industrial case studies.

There are clear historical reasons for this, for example the fact that software engineering branched off from computer science and applied mathematics only a few decades ago. But we nevertheless need, as a community, to question our research paradigms and peer evaluation processes in order to improve the situation. We also need, as other engineering fields before us, to emancipate ourselves from the scientific disciplines we originate from. Engineering research is focused on innovation and impact on society, and is inherently very different from research in natural sciences or mathematics.

From a personal standpoint, relevance and impact are concerns that I have been struggling with for a long time, which eventually led me to leave a comfortable academic position and a research chair to work in industry-driven research. I will use—some people might say abuse—this keynote address to share my personal, and sometimes provocative reflections on the matter.

I will base my talk on concrete research project examples to convey why we need more inductive research, that is, research working from specific observations in real settings to broader generalizations and theories. Among other things, the examples will show how a more thorough understanding of practice and closer interactions with practitioners can profoundly influence the definition of research problems, and the development and evaluation of solutions to these problems. Furthermore, these examples will illustrate why, to a large extent, useful research is necessarily multidisciplinary to reach comprehensive solutions.

Such research paradigm has however a profound impact on how research is organized, conducted, and evaluated. I will therefore address issues regarding its implementation in our academic community and show how our own biases can make our research even more disconnected from reality, thus undermining our very own interests.

On a more humorous note, the title hints at the fact that being a scientist in software engineering and aiming at having impact on practice often entails leading two parallel careers and impersonate different roles to peers and partners.


Lionel C. Briand is heading software verification and validation activities at Simula Research Laboratory, Norway, where he is leading the newly established Certus research center and projects in collaboration with industrial partners. He is also a professor at the University of Oslo (Norway). Before that, he was on the faculty of the department of Systems and Computer Engineering, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, where he was full professor and held the Canada Research Chair (Tier I) in Software Quality Engineering. He has also been the software quality engineering department head at the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering, Germany, and worked as a research scientist for the Software Engineering Laboratory, a consortium of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CSC, and the University of Maryland, USA. Lionel has been on the program, steering, or organization committees of many international, IEEE and ACM conferences.

He is the coeditor-in-chief of Empirical Software Engineering (Springer) and is a member of the editorial boards of Systems and Software Modeling (Springer) and Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability (Wiley). He was on the board of IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering from 2000 to 2004. Lionel was elevated to the grade of IEEE Fellow for his work on the testing of object-oriented systems. His research interests include: model-driven development, testing and verification, search-based software engineering, and empirical software engineering.

Sam Malek, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Computer Science
George Mason University