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Software Engineering

Software Architecture

The architecture definition process seems fairly straightforward. All you have to do is figure out what the requirements are and design a system that satisfies them. But in reality it's not that simple and the software architecture role can vary wildly depending on how engaged you are and how seriously you view your role. As the following diagram shows, the architecture definition part of the role can be broken down further into a number of different elements.

Management of non-functional requirements:
Software projects often get caught up on asking users what features they want, but rarely ask them what non-functional requirements (or system qualities) they need. Sometimes the stakeholders will tell us that "the system must be fast", but that's far too subjective. Non-functional requirements need to be specific, measurable, achievable and testable if we are going to satisfy them. Most of the non-functional requirements are technical in nature and often have a huge influence on the software architecture. Understanding the non-functional requirements is a crucial part of the role, but there's a difference between assuming what those requirements are and challenging them. After all, how many systems have you seen that genuinely need to be operational 24x7?

Architecture Definition:
With the non-functional requirements captured, the next step is to start thinking about how you're going to solve the problems set out by the stakeholders and define the architecture. It's fair to say that every software system has an architecture, but not every software system has a defined architecture. And that's really the point here. The architecture definition process lets you think about how you're going to take the requirements along with any imposed constraints and solve the problem. Architecture definition is about introducing structure, guidelines, principles and leadership to the technical aspects of a software project. Defining architecture is your job as a software architect but there's a big difference between designing a software system from scratch and extending an existing one

Technology Selection:
Technology selection is typically a fun exercise but it does have its fair set of challenges when you look at cost, licensing, vendor relationships, technology strategy, compatibility, interoperability, support, deployment, upgrade policies, end-user environments and so on. The sum of these factors can often make a simple task of choosing something like a rich client technology into a complete nightmare. And then there's the question of whether the technologies actually work. Technology selection is all about managing risk; reducing risk where there is high complexity or uncertainty and introducing risk where there are benefits to be had. Technology decisions need to be made by taking all factors into account, and all technology decisions need to be reviewed and evaluated. This includes the major building blocks for a software project right down to the libraries and frameworks being introduced during the development. If you're defining an architecture, you also need to be confident that the technology choices being made are the right choices. Again there's a big difference between evaluating technology for a new system versus adding technology into an existing system.

Architecture Evaluation:
If you're designing software, you need to ask yourself whether your architecture will work. For me, an architecture works if it satisfies the non-functional requirements, provides the necessary foundation for the rest of the code and provides a sufficient platform for solving the underlying business problem. One of the biggest problems with software is that it's complex and abstract, which makes it hard to visualise the runtime characteristics from UML diagrams or the code itself. We undertake a number of different types of testing throughout the software development lifecycle to give us confidence that the system we are delivering will work when rolled out. So why don't we do the same for our architectures? If you can test your architecture, then you can prove that it works. And if you can do this as early as possible, you can reduce the overall risk of project failure rather than simply hoping for the best.

Architecture Collaboration:
It's unusual for any software system to live in isolation and there are a number of people that need to understand it. This ranges from the immediate development team who need to understand and buy in to the architecture, right through to other stakeholders who have an interest from a security, database, operations, maintenance, support, etc point of view. For a software project to be successful, you need to collaborate closely with all of the system stakeholders to ensure that the architecture will successfully integrate with its environment. Unfortunately, architecture collaboration within the development team seldom happens, let alone the external stakeholders.

Our Scope of work
  • Analyzing user requirements, and develop system architecture and specifications
  • Understanding and collecting documentation of user's requirements
  • Support in the development of logical specifications

Software Designing

Given that software designs are relatively easy to turn out, and essentially free to build, an unsurprising revelation is that software designs tend to be incredibly large and complex. This may seem obvious but the magnitude of the problem is often ignored. School projects often end up being several thousand lines of code. There are software products with 10,000 line designs that are given away by their designers. We have long since passed the point where simple software is of much interest. Typical commercial software products have designs that consist of hundreds of thousands of lines. Many software designs run into the millions. Additionally, software designs are almost always constantly evolving. While the current design may only be a few thousand lines of code, many times that may actually have been written over the life of the product.

While there are certainly examples of hardware designs that are arguably as complex as software designs, note two facts about modern hardware. One, complex hardware engineering efforts are not always as free of bugs as software critics would have us believe. Major microprocessors have been shipped with errors in their logic, bridges collapsed, dams broken, airliners fallen out of the sky, and thousands of automobiles and other consumer products have been recalled - all within recent memory and all the result of design errors. Second, complex hardware designs have correspondingly complex and expensive build phases. As a result, the ability to manufacture such systems limits the number of companies that produce truly complex hardware designs. No such limitations exist for software. There are hundreds of software organizations, and thousands of very complex software systems in existence. Both the number and the complexity are growing daily. This means that the software industry is not likely to find solutions to its problems by trying to emulate hardware developers. If anything, as CAD and CAM systems have helped hardware designers to create more and more complex designs, hardware engineering is becoming more and more like software development.

Designing software is an exercise in managing complexity. The complexity exits within the software design itself, within the software organization of the company, and within the industry as a whole. Software design is very similar to systems design. It can span multiple technologies and often involves multiple sub-disciplines. Software specifications tend to be fluid, and change rapidly and often, usually while the design process is still going on. Software development teams also tend to be fluid, likewise often changing in the middle of the design process. In many ways, software bears more resemblance to complex social or organic systems than to hardware. All of this makes software design a difficult and error prone process. None of this is original thinking, but almost 30 years after the software engineering revolution began, software development is still seen as an undisciplined art compared to other engineering professions.

Our Scope of work
  • Developing design and design simulations and prototype
  • Maintain existing computer programs by making modifications

Software Testing Engineer

A Software Test Engineer is involved in the testing of software and is generally a member of the software quality assurance team. Software QA Engineers may test software, but are not always expert Test Engineers.

There are two main types of testing, which are white box testing and black box testing. The differences between the two are based on the assumptions and the view points taken by the testers while performing the tests. White box testing assumes an internal view of the software and black box testing basically assumes an external view of the software.

Testing is done at different phases of the software development life cycle (SDLC) and includes unit testing, integration testing, functional testing, system testing, acceptance testing (often performed by the internal or external client) and regression testing (which is often automated).

Our Scope of work
  • Researching and evaluating variety of software products.
  • Supervise, inspect and provide design support during the manufacturing.
  • Identifying and providing solutions to technical problems and processes.
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