Penn State professor plays key role in software engineering licensure

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LaplanteFrom web-based commerce systems to insulin pumps, almost every complex electrical system today contains software. Professor of software engineering at Penn State Great Valley in Malvern, Pa., Phillip Laplante, Ph.D., appreciates the significant and expanding role software engineers play in the design and operation of safety-critical systems and the need for licensed engineers to verify that their software design work conforms. As a result, Laplante has held a key role in software engineer licensure serving as chair of the Software Engineering Licensure Examination Development Committee.

The idea for the licensing exam came from five organizations who partnered in 2009 to form the Software Engineering Consortium: IEEE-USA Licensure and Registration Committee, the IEEE Computer Society, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Texas Board of Professional Engineers.

“This exam is the only missing item in the path to licensure for software engineers,” says Laplante. The rationale for the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, commonly known as the PE exam, is to build the competency levels of software engineers who write programs for systems that expose the public to physical or financial risk. The sponsoring organizations reason that competency testing could reduce the flaws and failures in code performed by solo practitioners and small consulting firms.

The one-day, open-book exam of 80 multiple-choice questions will cover a basic yet broad scope of software engineering activities such as design, testing, and security. More than 300 IEEE software engineering members from around the world were surveyed on the exam topics.

"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," notes Laplante. The exam will be used by engineering licensing boards across the United States and be administered as early as April 2013.

In addition to passing the exam, applicants must have four to six years of experience as a practitioner in software engineering. Laplante points out that not all software engineers will be required to take the exam; those not working on systems that directly affect the health, safety, and welfare of the public are exempt.