School of Engineering to offer new master’s degree in software systems development

The Tufts School of Engineering plans to offer a new master’s program in software systems development, starting in fall 2020, according to Alva Couch, associate professor of computer science. This new program, focusing on systems development, fills a niche for students who want an industry-preparation based program instead of the typical theory-heavy curriculum.

“There is simply not enough coverage of software skills,” Couch said.

Originally, the computer science department was pressured to create a software engineering graduate program in response to the ballooning demand of software engineers. 

However, Couch and his team turned the offer for a new program down due to a lack of room in their budget.

“We trained systems programmers, and we were good at it — we didn’t have the bandwidth to add the new courses required for a software engineering program,” he said.

Instead, they rearranged the courses already offered and combined them into a software systems master’s program. Couch pitched this idea to the department and it quickly gained the favor of the majority of the group.

While the department of computer science did not create any new courses for the program, they did rearrange the courses of the typical computer science master’s degree to form a program that gives a completely different software background.

Two theory courses typically taken by a computer science master’s student were replaced by two hands-on courses. Although the course offerings between the regular computer science program and the new system program are relatively similar, the difference between backgrounds is tremendous to an employer, according to Couch

Courses offered as part of the new program include ones centered on operating systems, cloud computing, architecture of the World Wide Web and many more. These options provide flexibility and prepare each student for a job in the industry by allowing an exploration in topics of interest, Couch said.

The software systems master’s program was created to meet growing student demand for specialized graduate programs that allow students to tailor their experiences more closely to their needs. As such, the program is the natural outgrowth of national trends in higher education and computer science, according to Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering.

Skye Soss, a computer science major and teacher’s assistant (TA) for the class Programming Languages, explained in a phone interview with the Daily that theory-based classes, like the one he TAs for, tend to focus more on concepts that exist across different languages to make adapting to different languages easier.

Soss, a junior, said that theory of programming provides a base for what a more specialized master’s degree, like the one proposed in the School of Engineering, would allow.

Market research indicates that there is an increasing need for systems programmers, according to Couch. He predicted that once artificial intelligence improves to the extent to where it program applications with ease, application programmers will become obsolete. However, systems programmers are harder to replace.

It is commonly believed that artificial intelligence will soon displace significant portions of society from their jobs and that all current occupations will be automated, Couch said. However, he claims that people will simply be moved to higher level jobs, and programmers will move to working on higher-level problems.

Qu said in an email to the Daily that he hopes the new program will help ameliorate the shortage of computer scientists in all sectors. He emphasized that the lack of software and systems engineers is due to the rapid broadening of the field, in areas such as machine learning, visualization and computational biology.

The computer science department and the School of Engineering have not yet sent out applications, but have been making efforts to cultivate interest in the project, and Couch predicts that the program will be a popular choice.


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