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About COMP 410, "Software Construction Methodologies"
Comp410 is a software engineering course where the all the students in the class work together to form a small software development "company" who is contracted to a "customer" to develop a large-scale project.  The students are placed in a realistic development scenario that requires a state-of-the-art software solution. Typical projects involve multi-client/multi-server frameworks with database connectivity.   Usually, the project is something that has never been attempted by anyone anywhere.    The students must interact with a person who is their customer, gathering and developing specifications and requirements, setting timelines and giving progress reports.   The students must create their own sub-teams, set milestones for all their members and work as a cohesive team on a very tight schedule.  Comp410 uses a "pure discovery-based learning" approach where the students are placed into a difficult situation and only through diligent research, discussion, reflection, trials and errors will they be able to overcome the obstacles and in doing so, learn the critical software engineering skills they need to become successful in the real world.
Students are required to have a background that includes advanced object-oriented design and programming.  In such, Comp310 for undergraduates or Comp404 for graduate students are required except by explicit permission by the instructor.  Comp405 is also highly recommended.   The class will typically use C# and .NET technologies, but those are not required as prerequisites.


Traditional software engineering courses follow the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute’s “Guidelines for Software Engineering Education Version 1” in a lecture based format that covers the suggested topics of life cycle, design, requirements and specifications, testing, etc.   However, at Rice, the goal is to educate leaders in the field, so simply knowing the “book” practices is not enough.   Rice students need to understand the why and the how of software engineering.   The students need to understand what causes the problems that the various software engineering methodologies address and what fundamentally one needs to do to correct them.   This understanding is not tied to a particular methodology, but requires deep and careful reflection on real development processes and the issues that face them.     The only way that students can truly understand a “real world” software development process is for them to be immersed in it themselves.    They must experience all that goes wrong (and right) and figure out for themselves what it takes to correct the problems, overcome the hurdles and achieve their goals.    They must also be acquainted with cutting edge technologies and more importantly, how to handle new technologies as part of the development process.  To achieve this, Comp410 employs a non-traditional pedagogy based on “pure discovery learning”.   Instead of traditional lectures and homework assignments, the entire class works together as a single team, simulating the development department of a small software company faced with the daunting task of completing, in about 12 weeks, a very large project involving numerous unfamiliar and often "bleeding edge" technologies.  (The first two weeks of the semester are taken up with including a warm-up project designed to help everyone get up to speed with some of the  basic tools and technologies being used.)   The students will do all the research, design, implementation and testing of their product on their own.  Likewise, the students must conceive and execute their own notions of how to manage the project development.    In addition, through discussion and weekly journals, the class reflects upon and attempts to solve the various issues and problems, both technical as well as project management,  that arise during real-world multi-team software development.   The roles of instructors and staff are as mentors and technical and project management resources, plus they provide feedback on student journal and milestone entries.   Lectures will be eschewed except for specific technical topics as required.   Discussion and debate is the preferred mode of learning.
Through "learning by doing" the class covers the following topics and more:
  • State-of-the-art object oriented design and programming
    • Highly abstract, highly modular systems
    • Highly decoupled systems
    • Component-framework systems
  • Project management
    • Team organization
    • Project and task specification
    • Team and individual task assignment and management
    • Human resource management
    • Milestone setting and management
    • Agile development (e.g. eXtreme Programming) vs. traditional up-front planning
    • Bug tracking and resolution
    • Deadline and crisis management
    • Managing and incorporating new technologies
  • Communications
    • Interpersonal and inter-team
    • Volatile, high speed vs. persistent slow speed communications
    • Long and short term documentation
  • New technologies
    • New programming language (C#) under new operating framework (.NET)
    • Distributed and peer-to-peer systems
    • Cloud computing systems
    • New hardware platforms, e.g. TabletPC, Wiimotes, Wii BalanceBoards, Kinect motion sensors, Wunderboard Internet-connected sensors 
    • New user interface modalities: pen/stylus, inking, gestures, handwriting recognition
The Computer Science curriculum at Rice University emphasizes diversity in programming languages and computing environments.  To provide students with a solid understanding of .NET technology, our software engineering course, Comp 410 -Software Construction Methodology, has been based exclusively on C# and .NET for over 10 years.  The course leads students through the process of specifying, designing and implementing a large software project that requires advanced and intricate applications of .NET solutions.



A critical part of the Comp410 learning experience is the journal-keeping in which all students are required to participate.   Typically these weekly journals are responses to a set of questions about the week's technical and project management process achievements, obstacles and issues.   This reflection on what was done, why it was done and what one thinks can be done to remedy the problems in the future is one of the lynchpins of learning the art and practice of software development.   


Please see the Journal Tips and Traps wiki for more information on creating journals.


Students also create bi-weekly milestone reports to document their progress on the milestones that were set out for them over that time period.



Recommended Texts

  • Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, and John Vlissides, Design Patterns, Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software, Addison Wesley, 1995.   ISBN 0201633612.  The bible of design patterns, a must-have for anyone serious about object oriented programming.
  • Martin Fowler and Kendal Scott, UML Distilled: A Brief Guide to the Standard Object Modeling Language, 2nd ed., Addison Wesley, 1999.  ISBN 020165783X.  Useful for learning how to fully use UML diagrams.
  • Kent Beck, eXtreme Programming eXplained, Embrace Change , Addison-Wesley, ISBN: 0201616416.    The definitive reference by the developer of XP.
  • Martin Fowler,Kent Beck, John Brant,William Opdyke, Don Roberts, Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code, Addison-Wesley, ISBN: 0201485672.   The definitive book on refactoring.


Class typically meets in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen.
100% class attendance is absolutely mandatory!
Regular participation in student-run meeting sessions is also expected.


As this is a project-based course, the class grade will be determined from a combination of bi-weekly project milestones, weekly journals and the final product.
  • Warm-up Project
  • Weekly journals
    • Each student will turn in a journal every Friday, whether or not class meets.
    • Journals must cover a specified set of topics and will be graded primarily on completeness and clarity.
  • Project milestones  
    • Each student will be responsible for at least one milestone that comes due every two weeks.
    • A score of 100% will be awarded for a fully completed milestone.  Incomplete milestones will be assigned a score commensurate with the level of completeness and the importance of that milestone.
  • Final product
    • At the end of the semester, the final product will be assigned a score that will be applied equally to all students.   The score will be based on the level of completeness of the product with regards to the contracted goals, the quality of the documentation, the quality of the design and the quality of its operation (i.e. how well it runs).



The grading distribution varies from year to year but is approximately
  • Warm-up Project: 10%
  • Journals: 50%
  • Milestone Reports: 10%
  • Final Deliverables: 30%
ADA Statement: If you have a documented disability that will impact your work in this class, please contact me to discuss your needs.  Additionally, you will need to register with the Disability Support Services Office in the Allen Center.