Computer Laboratory Home Page Search A-Z Directory Help
University of Cambridge Home Computer Laboratory
Software Engineering and Design
Computer Laboratory > Course material 2005-06 > Software Engineering and Design

Software Engineering and Design

Principal lecturer: Dr Alan Blackwell
Taken by: Part II (General), Diploma

Past exam questions are in several places: [SoftwareEngineeringandDesign] [SoftwareEngineeringI] [SoftwareEngineering]

Online Teaching Material

The printed course material has been designed (following sound software engineering principles) so that lecture notes and presentation slides can be maintained as a single source document - authored in MS PowerPoint. An Acrobat version of that printed material is available here (3.5 MB)

Notes for Supervisors and Directors of Studies

General Approach

My intention in this course is to emphasise practical skills for system design rather than theory of software engineering. I do this for two reasons. The first is to concentrate on transferrable skills, as it is my impression that rather more Diploma and Part IIG students go straight into professional software development jobs than do Part IA students. The second is better to prepare students for their project work next term. In supervising many Diploma projects, and when organising the group projects last year, I've found that the Dip/IIG students benefit greatly from some basic guidance on how to go about the different phases of system design.

Comparison to Software Engineering IA

The material in this course is partially derived from the IA software engineering course, so provides some opportunity to catch up for students who have entered Part IB directly. However I have also removed much of the material from the Part IA course, especially on the topics of software risks, security and safety critical systems.

I have added to this core material two lectures on practical code construction techniques, two lectures on object-oriented design, and three lectures on user interface design. Each of these topics is addressed at a basic level, but emphasising techniques that can be applied immediately in project work.

Course texts

More detail, supplementary to the unusually broad range of introductory material in the lectures, is available in the course texts. I've done a lot of research into selecting the texts. I believe they are the best available, and all genuinely useful to students entering professional life. There is no single text that adequately describes current best practice in these different areas. I know that four texts is a lot for a single course, and I'm very consious of the expense involved for students. I can honestly recommend acquiring these texts for your college libraries - they will be of general interest and utility beyond computer science students.

If supervisors wish to do some background reading, some of the key passages are chapter 2 of the "UML Distilled" book, chapters 5-10 and 22 of the "Code Complete" book, and chapters 2,3 & 9 of the Interface Design book. Pressman is the best overview of the whole process, but is not really adequate on the specific topics I've listed.


The question of how a practically-oriented course should be supervised is not straightforward. When this kind of material is taught in engineering schools, it is usually done within practical design classes and assessed short term design exercises. I think there is little point in adding this kind of additional load to our students.

As my intention has been to help these students get to grips with their project work, my proposal is that they use the projects themselves as the context in which to test the material they have learned on this course. I therefore suggest that you schedule supervisions for this course after the start of the projects (group projects for IIG and IB, dissertation projects for Dip).

As in Software Engineering 1A, it is likely that examination questions will be essay-based. It will therefore be valuable for students to have some practice at composing essays and seeing how they are assessed. My suggestions for set supervision work are as follows:

    Diploma students:

  1. Write a short essay (2 pages) describing the way in which your project has taken account of the needs of people who might use the system you are developing.
  2. Write a short essay (2 pages) describing the overall design of your project, supplemented with UML diagrams (you may draw these by hand if necessary).

    Part IIG students:

  3. Write a short essay (2 pages) describing the project management structure that has been adopted by your group, and analyse its effect on the project lifecycle.
  4. Compare the coding styles that have been used by different members of the implementation team on your group project, and explain the way in which they have influenced the design.

The normal equations would suggest at least two supervisions for a 12 lecture course. I would recommend following that model - meaning that if the above questions are used, all students will have a chance to answer each.


Essays written for this course should not be a "rant" or collection of personal opinion. Unfortunately, computer science students do sometimes treat essays as an invitation to give their opinion, not as a piece of academic work. Students who submit work of this kind should be given clear feedback to indicate why it is not appropriate in an academic approach to engineering and design, and also fair warning that exam questions, if answered in this way, will not be marked favourably.

I recommend that students be asked explicitly to refer to specific analytic, evaluative or planning techniques that have been presented in the lectures, and even to cite the actual location in one of the course texts where each point they make can be found. This can form the basis for valuable discussion during the supervision, if you can arrange to have a copy of the textbook with you.


Feedback on the course, the lecture notes, the texts, or these notes is highly welcome. This course is not directly modelled on any other taught elsewhere, and is derived from my own research into best practice in design.