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CS4530/5500, Spring 2021: Fundamentals/Foundations of Software Engineering


Building, delivering and maintaining successful software products requires more than being good at programming. Software engineering encompasses the tools and processes that we use to design, construct and maintain programs over time. Software engineering has been said to consider the “multi person development of multi version programs.” Development processes that work well for a single developer do not scale to large or even medium-sized teams. Similarly, development processes that work well for quickly delivering a one-off program to a client cause chaos when applied to a codebase that needs to be maintained and updated over months and years. This class will begin to explore these tradeoffs throughout the entire software development lifecycle, with a particular focus on how these decisions affect the quality of the resulting software.

This class will serve as an introduction to the field of software engineering, covering key topics such as:

  • Requirements gathering and specification
    How to make sure that you build the product that your customer really wants
  • Designing code for reuse, for readability, and for scale
    How to avoid reinventing the wheel? What makes code readable? Where does performance fit into designs? When do we decide when to revisit old design decisions, and how do we replace them? Can we avoid the mistakes that past developers have made?
  • How to organize your development process to collaborate effectively
    How do we communicate our designs with others? How do we structure and coordinate development activities? How do we measure the performance of these processes, and tweak them over time?
  • How to ensure that your code works, is secure, and broadly speaking, “does the right thing”
    How do we measure different quality attributes like usability, scalability and performance? How do we minimize the cost of defects? How do we automatically test complex systems? Can we automatically prove the absence of some kinds of defects?

Course Outcomes

  • Students will be able to define and describe the phases of the software engineering lifecycle (requirements, design, implementation, testing, deployment, maintenance)
  • Students will be able to explain the role of key processes and technologies in modern software development.
  • Students will be able to productively apply instances of major tools used in elementary SE tasks.
  • Students will design and implement a portfolio-worthy software engineering project in a small team environment that can be publicly showcased to recruiters.

Course Delivery

The course will be delivered in a hybrid style. This means that there will be a combination of asynchronous (online) materials that you will be expected to study on your own, and synchronous (in-class) activities, in which students are expected to participate at scheduled times. The asynchronous component will be the primary means by which the course materials are delivered, and the synchronous activities will be used for holding discussions, answering questions, and providing hands-on enrichment materials.

Profs Bell and Boyland will deliver their synchronous sections in person, using the Hybrid NUFlex system, which allows you to choose to attend in person, or join remotely via Zoom. Prof Wand will deliver his synchronous section remotely using Zoom.

Your Responsibilities

Each week, you will be expected to:

  • Review the week’s learning objectives.
  • Complete all assigned readings and asynchronous materials
  • Attend the synchronous sessions and participate in discussions. You may be asked to conduct reviews of other students’ designs, documents, or code. Your participation and contributions are important.
  • Complete and submit all assignments by the due dates. There will be a combination of individual assignments and assignments given to teams.

It is also your responsibility to be familiar with our academic integrity and other course policies.

PLEASE DO NOT COME TO CLASS IF YOU ARE ILL. While we want you to share your knowledge and experiences, there are some things you shouldn’t share.

Course Project

The assignments and project for this class are designed to mirror the experiences of a software engineer joining a new development team: you will be “onboarded” to our codebase, make several individual contributions, and then form a team to propose, develop and implement a new feature. The codebase that we’ll be developing on is a remote collaboration tool called Covey.Town. Covey.Town provides a virtual meeting space where different groups of people can have simultaneous video calls, allowing participants to drift between different conversations, just like in real life. Covey.Town is inspired by existing products like Gather.Town, Sococo, and Gatherly.IO — but it is an open source effort, and the features will be proposed and implemented by you! All implementation will take place in the TypeScript programming language, using React for the user interface.

At the end of the semester, the instructors and TAs will evaluate all of the student projects, and select the best (in terms of usability, code quality, test suite quality, and overall design) to merge into the open source Covey.Town codebase on GitHub repository. No additional course credit will be awarded to these teams, but these students will have the opportunity to receive public recognition for their project (in the form of a pull request merged into our repository and acknowledgements in the project’s contributors list).

The project will provide hands-on experience to complement the skills taught in this class, requiring students to be able to:

  • Work effectively in a small team
  • Enumerate and prioritize development tasks
  • Propose, design, implement and test a new feature in an existing non-toy software application
  • Write code that their team members can read and review
  • Review teammates’ code
  • Analyze a proposed software architecture
  • Use relevant software tools, such as:
    • TypeScript
    • Visual Studio Code (or similar IDE)
    • Git
    • Mocha and Jest
    • Twilio’s Programmable Video API
    • Postman

Select projects from Spring 2021 are hosted in our project showcase.


This class and its contents were inspired by Software Engineering courses at various institutions, including:

This website is built using Kevin Lin’s Just the Class Jekyll template. The term project, Covey.Town, is built using code from the Clowdr open source project.

© 2021 Jonathan Bell, John Boyland and Mitch Wand. Released under the CC BY-SA license