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Software Engineering: Steps & Best Practice

Instructor: Sebastian Garces

Sebastian has taught programming and computational thinking for University students and has Master's degree in Computer and Information Technology

In the growing world of software, have you ever wondered how so many new applications are produced constantly, world-wide, and with better quality? Software engineering is the systematic approach used to make this happen and solve problems faster.

Software Engineering

In the growing world of software, have you ever wondered how so many new applications are produced constantly, all over the world, and every time with better quality? Software engineering is the systematic approach used to make this happen and solve problems quickly.

Software engineering is as simple as the application of engineering to the development of software in a systematic method. This systematic method consists of defined steps that will help develop software with a comprehensive approach towards the solution of a problem.

To talk about software engineering, you have to be familiar with the Software Development Life Cycle or Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC), which is the series of steps required to deploy a technological solution to a problem. The SDLC is widely called 'systems' instead of 'software', because there can be solutions that can be built mostly of hardware.

It is worth mentioning that, overall, software engineering is comprised of these broad steps, and the way they are followed can be adjusted according to each project and the different software development methodologies used across the industry. This is due to the nature of software projects and their high variability, causing schedules and processes to change constantly.

Systems Development Life Cycle

SDLC describes the process of planning, creating, testing and deploying an information system. The process is described with a sequence of activities that are distributed in five phases: planning, analysis, design, development, maintenance.

Planning

The planning phase is meant to determine the feasibility of the project. This will include costs, technological constraints, time limitations, and any other factor that could help determine if the project can take place or not. Not every problem can be solved with the current technology or with unrealistic financial expectations.

Analysis

Analysis is the phase where the project teams do all the requirement gathering. This means determining all the functionality for the software or system to be developed. This has to be aligned with the feasibility of the project, so the system functionality actually fits the budget and the technology available. Current software engineering uses requirements to create a description of the desired functionality and constraints of the system. User stories are often used to describe the desired functionality. User stories have the structure of: As a <user>, I want <functionality> so that <value for the user/reason>. For example: as a student, I want to bookmark my lessons so that I can find them more easily.

It is incredibly important to have a clear understanding of the problem and the actual needs that the users have. Failing to accurately understand the problem will affect every other stage of the software engineering process, increasing the costs by having to correct misunderstandings and product defects.

Design

The design phase is the one where everything becomes a detailed blueprint of the system. All the requirements are translated into detailed documents like class diagrams, screen layouts, business rules, business processes, entity-relationship diagrams, etc. This is the starting point for developers to start creating the software solution. The key to planning and designing a solution is aiming to produce the simplest possible design that meets the requirements. This will allow the project team to implement better, easier to use software, and will highlight any problems with the designed solution earlier in the process.

Development

Development is one of the most important phases. In this phase the actual system is built and programmed. All the plans are carried out so the software solution is accurate. Also, this phase includes all the testing and different activities that will ensure that the system is ready to use. This phase is not over until the customer is satisfied with the product quality.

Making sure that the final product works as intended and successfully meets all the criteria defined in early stages is critical to guaranteeing quality and maintainability of the product. That is why the solution has to be simple and the plan clear. It will help the team keep the overall picture of the problem they are solving in mind and determine if the problem is effectively being solved by the software.

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