SAN JOSE – Can you pass the software test? That’s the question The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying will answer when it offers its first Principles and Practice of Engineering exam in software engineering in April 2013.
NCEES got its start in 1920 running tests for state licenses that include a broad range of civil, mechanical and electronic engineering fields. Now it’s stepping into the 21st century with its first software exam.
The developers of Angry Birds and their many peers can breathe a sigh of relief. This test is geared for coders working in so-called safety-critical fields.
Many state licensing boards have long said code developers should be regulated the same way as other engineering disciplines. Their expanding work in areas such as electric grids, traffic control systems and water treatment plants argues for such an exam, said a release from the IEEE-USA, a co-sponsor of the test.
"The exam is the result of a comprehensive survey study of several hundred software engineering professionals and the hard work of a dedicated committee of practicing software engineers with extensive experience in a wide range of mission-critical systems," said Phillip Laplante, a professor of software engineering at Penn State who chairs the committee developing the test, speaking in the IEEE-USA release.
So far ten U.S. states have requested a formal software engineering exam, including Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, LaPlante said in an email exchange with EE Times. "I suspect that we will see test takers in other states too," he said.
The National Society of Professional Engineers and the Texas Board of Professional Engineers helped develop the test. It will be administered yearly and used by engineering licensing boards across the U.S.
"A software engineering license is not required by anyone I know--the proper college degree and work experience is all that's needed," said Dave Kleidermacher, chief technology officer for Green Hills Software (Santa Barbara, Calif.), a developer of embedded systems software. "Software engineering is definitely a mix of art and science," he said.
LaPlante disagreed. "If it’s practiced well, it ought to be science, but it looks like art," he said.
The software exam will be similar in format to the three existing NCEES electronics engineering exams. They are open book style and consists of two batteries of 40 multiple choice questions. The group currently administers tests in person, but plans to move to an online test system in 2014.
Sample questions will be available in October. Registration for the test will start in mid-December.
The software exam will test nine roughly equal areas according to an online description. Topics span areas including requirements gathering, design methods, profiling, testing, maintenance and lifecycle models.