IBM Method Expert Joins CMUSV Faculty-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

IBM Method Expert Joins CMUSV Faculty

Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley is pleased to bring Dr. Cécile Péraire as a full-time faculty member to its software engineering and software management master’s programs after she first joined CMUSV as an Adjunct Professor. Péraire brings over fifteen years of software engineering experience in both industry and academia. She earned her Ph.D. in computer science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland). Following a postdoctoral research fellowship at SRI International and Hewlett Packard, she worked at Rational Software and IBM where she played different roles covering the many facets of software development. She has been a significant contributor to IBM's internal and commercial methods, including the IBM Rational Unified Process (RUP).

CMUSV: Welcome to CMUSV! Can you tell us about the evolution of your career? How did you become interested in studying software?

Cécile Péraire: I decided to study computer science after receiving my first programmable calculator, a SHARP PC-1403 “Pocket Computer,” which allowed me to write and execute BASIC statements. The idea that I could create my own programs was entirely new and fascinating. As an undergraduate student at EPFL, I had the opportunity to explore the theoretical and practical disciplines of computer sciences. Soon I selected software engineering as my field of interest, which later led me to pursue a Ph.D. in software testing. However, it was only years later that I found my true passion after joining Rational Software. As a consultant, I helped clients with process improvement and automation initiatives. This was a unique opportunity to work with a wide range of companies in the Silicon Valley and to interact with software practitioners, from developers to decision makers. I discovered that I am most passionate about innovative methods and tools to enable teams and people to more effectively develop and deliver software-intensive solutions.

CMUSV: Why did you feel that Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley was the right fit for you?

CP: There is a clear match between my professional domains of expertise and the core courses offered by CMUSV in the context of the master programs in software engineering and management. Because of my experience in iterative and agile methods, I had been invited by CMUSV earlier this year to teach a process course. I enjoyed working with the students, faculty and staff and felt part of the family right away. I especially appreciate the CMUSV learn-by-doing pedagogical approach, which I have found to be very effective.

CMUSV: Could you tell us more about why you think the learn-by-doing approach is an effective teaching style?

CP:  The learn-by-doing approach is essentially about teaching by coaching rather than lecturing. Each course simulates a real world situation where students work in teams to solve an authentic problem while experimenting with a specific role and aspect of software engineering. In this context, I interact with a small set of students whom I coach through their projects. This mimics the role of a consultant performing on-the-job mentoring with clients. I have found this to be an effective setting for sharing my industry experience and passion for software engineering with students. The team-based and project-centered learn-by-doing approach allows students to truly understand the applicability of their newly acquired knowledge. 

CMUSV: As a woman in an industry that is still generally dominated by men, what do you see as challenges to women succeeding? How do you think more women can be introduced to the software industry?

CP: I would love to see more women in the software industry. We may be able to attract more female students by changing the image associated with the profession. Not all women interested in technology want to become a “computer geek”! We need to help young women understand that the industry offers a wide range of careers requiring a broad set of skills, including technical, soft, creative and artistic. I have worked with many successful women throughout my career, and I do not believe that this industry poses more challenges to women as compared to men. I do believe, however, that there are still many challenges to overcome in terms of providing women with the resources they need to be both effective young mothers and workplace leaders. This is a social problem not specific to the software industry.

CMUSV: How do you see the programs at CMUSV moving forward?

CP: Every year the programs are growing and attracting more students. This year, we’re starting the embedded systems track and I think we will continue to see our enrollment numbers grow. Also, I am working on starting an agile and lean methods research program. This program will be directly related to the core courses of our software engineering and software management programs and, therefore, will contribute to a continuous improvement of these courses. By extending our research programs and continuing to capitalize on our partnership with numerous Silicon Valley organizations, we will continue to have the unique ability to expose our students to the latest software technology and practices. The fact that we have access to a reservoir of successful companies will continue to attract students from around the world. 

CMUSV: What is the most memorable moment from your time in graduate school?

CP: I will never forget my first experience working in teams, in the context of a yearlong software engineering course. I remember nights spent working on the project and endless debates with my teammates. It was difficult at times but extremely valuable. I am grateful I had the opportunity to practice my collaboration skills and make mistakes in the safe environment of a student project. Later on, my ability to collaborate was a key driver of success in my career. The software industry needs professionals who are more than good programmers and technologically savvy. It needs professionals who understand that software development is a “team sport” and are prepared to take an active and collaborative role within a team or organization.

CMUSV: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not on campus?

CP: California allows me to practice many outdoor activities in incredible nature settings, from hiking to rock climbing or skiing. I also enjoy sailing with my family. The San Francisco Bay, with its beautiful weather, good winds, and many scenic destinations, is probably among the best sailing waters in the world. I feel privileged to work and live in the Silicon Valley.