November 30, 2007
Whitworth University Partners with Microsoft to Offer Course in Software Quality Assurance
Most computer science graduates enter the work force prepared to develop source code for the latest software applications, but have little understanding of how to improve software quality. In fact, some students consider software quality assurance to be a lesser skill than software development. According to Cherie Ekholm, a senior test lead at Microsoft Corporation and a 1987 Whitworth alumna, the shortage of qualified candidates is hampering hi-tech companies' success at recruiting and hiring qualified assurance staff.
"The role of software design engineer in testing at Microsoft is not an entry-level position; it's a full career path," Ekholm says. "Testing is an integral part of the process of developing software. These days, quality assurance people in many tech companies must be able to code as well as the people who write our applications and operating systems, plus they have to be able to represent and advocate for our customers, and have the curiosity to look for bugs from unexpected angles."
In a step toward preparing college graduates as full-time and intern candidates for Microsoft testing positions worldwide, Ekholm contacted the Whitworth Mathematics & Computer Science Department to collaborate on creating an undergraduate pilot course addressing how quality assurance engineers improve software quality.
"Whitworth is a liberal arts university with a strong computer science department," Ekholm says. "I believed they would be receptive to the idea of teaching a full semester course on quality assurance and that they had the ability to launch the course within a year or so."
The pilot course, Quality Assurance in Software Management, was launched in fall 2007 and is open to computer science and math majors who have taken at least one semester of computer science courses. Most institutions that offer a course in quality assurance do so at the graduate level, according to Associate Professor of Computer Science Pete Tucker, '91. The few undergraduate quality assurance courses that exist nationwide require that students have taken most other courses in the computer science curriculum, including a course in software engineering.
"The course is a great opportunity for our students and should open up more employment options for them," says Tucker, who spent five of his eight years with Microsoft as a quality assurance engineer. "I was excited about the opportunity the new course offers to dispel the myth that testing is a lesser skill."
Students taking the course study a variety of theories and techniques in quality assurance and apply what they've learned. They are testing an open source application found on SourceForge.com, using the bug tracking system to report and monitor bugs, and the version control system to retrieve updates from the developers. Additionally, an open source software application manages and automates the students' test cases. Whitworth computer science students who weren't able to take the course this semester have requested that it be offered again soon, Tucker says.
A working group at Microsoft has been formed to encourage and support other schools in offering similar courses, according to Ekholm. The group plans to expand the program to about six schools within the next year.
"We're hoping to build momentum around the project by leveraging alumni from various universities and offering challenges to students," Ekholm says. "We want to generate more interest in technical careers in general and to expand the pool of qualified applicants."
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,600 students, offers 53 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Peter Tucker, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, Whitworth University (509) 777-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cherie Ekholm, senior test lead, Microsoft Corporation, email@example.com.
Julie Riddle, public information officer, Whitworth University (509) 777-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.