New Masters Program Builds Global Technology Leaders

When it launches its new Masters of Software Management Program this fall, Carnegie Mellon West — the Silicon Valley-based campus of the famed Pittsburgh, PA university — will be introducing the first master’s program specifically for producing IT leaders who can perform in global enterprises.

“If you go to get a masters in computer science from a research-oriented university, what they’re doing is training researchers — people working individually on projects,” said Dr. Tony Wasserman, professor of Software Engineering Practice at Carnegie Mellon (CMU) West. “If you’re working in a company, you don’t do anything alone. You’re always working as part of a group. Your project gets assessed not only on technical merits but on the appropriateness for the business. We try to bring a lot of the flavor of that situation to our courses. Students get assigned to teams. They have to do their work, but instead of writing code and submitting it individually, they might have to write a team report and make a presentation to a simulated executive team for the type of company they’re working in. So there’s a real dose of reality flavored toward Silicon Valley.”

This isn’t a typical masters program. For one, there are the base requirements: five years of experience performing in a tech role as well as a degree in computer science or a related field. “To rise in a Silicon Valley company,” said Dr. Jim Morris, dean of the West Coast Campus of CMU, “you almost have to have a technology background.”

Plus, some of the “highly diverse” 30 or 40 students expected to be enrolled in the first class will attend the program in person; others will tackle it remotely — which gives them all the “experience of working in a distributed environment,” explains program architect, Dr. Martin Griss, associate dean for Education.

At $60,000, the degree doesn’t come cheap. As Morris points out, “We compete with MBA market… But our program is half the length and probably half the cost.”

Students can expect to put in between 15 and 20 hours a week between class time and time spent working on projects, said Griss, not an easy matter for those holding down full-time jobs.

During the first year, courses include: foundations of software management, metrics for software managers, systems and requirements and the business of software.

“If you go to a traditional software engineering program [on systems and requirements], you sit there and write UML diagrams and…make spreadsheets full of requirements that have ÔShall’ or ÔMust,’ said Wasserman. “But what we do with our students is we say, ÔOK, you’re now working as part of a team for this small company, which wants to introduce a software product, which we’re looking at offering in the following space… Go create a vision for this product.’ They have to go out and write a document that’s a vision and work through a series of tasks, whereby at the end of class, they will make a presentation to the management of this class… There will be four teams and they’ll come up with four slightly different concepts.”

Then in the next class, the business of software, the teams will be shuffled and told to pick from among the four ideas to work on the one they consider most promising, he explained. That involves doing market analysis, feasibility studies, financial analysis and all the other aspects of dealing with the business of developing a new software product.

During the second year, classes include: managing internal development, managing outsourced development, enterprise architect, an introduction to open source software, innovation and entrepreneurship and a practicum, in which the student will participate in a team working on a real-world business problem sponsored by a business client. Organizations participating in this last aspect of the program include Intel, NASA, Oracle, BEA and others.

A major part of the program will be guest speakers. In the past, for the campus’ MS in Software Engineering program, lecturers have included Sabeer Bhatia, the founder of hotmail; Regis McKenna, the high tech marketing maven; Kim Polese, CEO for SpikeSource; Ann Winblad, venture capitalist and Bill Gates buddy; and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. That’s an advantage of being in Silicon Valley, said Griss. “The faculty have connections; it’s easy to bring [industry people] in.”

The MS in software management is intended for people pursuing positions as program manager, product manager, CTO and even entrepreneur, said Griss. But as Morris, a long-time Silicon Valley inhabitant, observed, “Our first step is to get them out of a cubicle and into an office.”

Useful Links

Carnegie Mellon West
http://west.cmu.edu/

Overview of the Masters of Software Management program
http://west.cmu.edu/prospective_students/software_management

2007 program brochure
http://media.west.cmu.edu/documents/Carnegie_Mellon_West_2007_Brochure.pdf