Barry Boehm, a ‘living legend’ of systems and software engineering, dies at 87 – USC Viterbi

Professor Barry Boehm defined an era in software engineering with his seminal work on software cost estimation and life cycle modeling. Photo/John Vidar.

Barry Boehm, a pioneer in the fields of computer science and software engineering, died Aug. 20 in Santa Monica. He was 87 years old.

Boehm, who served as professor emeritus of computer science, industrial and systems engineering and astronautics at USC until his retirement in May 2022, defined an era of software engineering through his seminal work on the software cost estimation and life cycle modeling.

Born in 1935, Boehm received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University and his doctorate. in mathematics from UCLA. After several influential roles in industry, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, including positions with the RAND Corporation, TRW Inc., and DARPA, Boehm joined the faculty of USC in 1992.

“Barry’s contributions cannot be measured solely by the impact of his ideas on software engineering,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of USC Viterbi. “Much more than that, he impacted the lives of his students and colleagues. We were lucky enough to work in the presence of a true giant and to call him our friend.

Pioneering Contributions

Boehm’s career is full of contributions to the disciplines of software and systems engineering, with his later work “focusing on the transition of software development from pure art to an engineering discipline”, according to a 2014 article titled On the Shoulders of Giants: A Tribute to Professor Barry Boehm.

One of his pioneering contributions was the invention of a software cost estimation model that transformed the discipline. In his 1981 book, economics of software engineeringBoehm defined the constructive cost model (COCOMO).

former student of Boehm, Neil Siegelnow a professor of engineering management at USC IBM and professor of industrial and systems engineering practice and computer science, recalls a story Boehm told about the creation of COCOMO.

“The field of computing was forever changed for the good by his work.” Neil Siegel.

“After receiving bids from major satellite systems in the mid-1970s, the Vice President of TRW Inc. asked Boehm for a credible way to estimate the cost of developing a software product. And so he did! said Siegel.

The result was the first reliable model that allowed software engineers and project managers to take control of projects that were increasingly behind schedule, over budget and of poor quality, saving businesses and government agencies billions of dollars. Extensions of this model remained the benchmark in research and industry for several decades.

“Boehm’s creations have had a great influence on software development methods, are used literally around the world, and have fundamentally changed the path taken by millions of software development practitioners,” said Siegel. “The field of computing was forever changed for the good by his work.”

Revolutionizing software engineering

In addition to this historic contribution, Boehm revolutionized the landscape of software engineering with the development of the spiral software lifecycle model. This method recognized that large, expensive, and complicated projects require an iterative development process with incremental releases and refinement of a product at each phase.

The seminal article had a great impact on Neno Medvidovicchairman of the Department of Computer Science at USC Viterbi, who was a young researcher at the time of his publication.

“For me personally, Barry was an inspiration, and one of the first technical papers I read as a college student was his 1988 paper describing the software development spiral model“, said Medvidovic

Professor Boehm works with CSSE PhD student Vu Nquyen '10, while Thomas Tan CSSE '11 and LiGuo Huang CSSE '06 watch.  (Photo/Jon Vidar)

Professor Boehm works with CSSE PhD student Vu Nquyen ’10, while Thomas Tan CSSE ’11 and LiGuo Huang CSSE ’06 watch. (Photo/Jon Vidar)

“This paper was a big reason behind my career choice. Barry, of course, didn’t know that, so when he tried to recruit me to USC in 1998, I could hardly believe it. Honestly, I felt like I was walking on clouds.

To date, the spiral model paper has received nearly 8,000 scholarly citations, and its six rules for appropriate use of the spiral model have been in use for decades.

“His door was always wide open”

Boehm is the author of over 900 publications, including nearly 200 journal articles, 6 textbooks and hundreds of conference papers in addition to presentations, speeches and webinars. His publications have more than 70,000 citations listed in Google Scholarand Springers the analysis ranks him as the second most cited software engineer in the world.

But beyond his prolific publications, vast expertise, and cerebral prowess, Boehm was known as an affable, energetic, and respectful colleague, mentor, and friend.

With his passing, our department has lost one of its most distinguished members, and the field of computer science has lost a giant. Shang Hua Teng.

“When he was in his office, his door was always wide open, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to come in and talk to him every time I walked by,” his colleague said. Shang Hua Teng, college professor and Seeley G. Mudd Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics. “Through these interactions with Barry, I learned a lot about his ideas about computing and his wisdom about life.”

To celebrate his achievements in the field, in 2007 the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) held an event titled “Software Engineering: The Legacy of Barry W. Boehmwhich included presentations summarizing his contributions and their impact on software engineering research and practice.

Organizers noted that “few people … have consistently made significant contributions over a 40-year period and won the respect of academic, industrial and government audiences.”

Teng agrees with that sentiment, adding, “[Boehm’s] work in applying mathematical economics theories to software engineering has led to a framework of principle that has had a wide and profound impact on computer science. With his passing, our department has lost one of its most distinguished members, and the field of computer science has lost a giant.

A lasting legacy

Among his many accolades and accomplishments, Boehm received the SERC Founders Award in 2018 and the INCOSE Pioneer Award in 2019 “for his work as a systems pioneer contributing uniquely to the advancement of systems engineering through extensive research, education and application in industry.”

He was a member of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), and the IEEE, and was elected a Fellow from the National Academy of Engineering. in 1996.

In addition to his research, Boehm was also devoted to his students. According to Jo Ann Lane et. Al, more than thirty doctoral students at USC established their own intellectual pursuits based on Boehm’s research. He was upgraded to emeritus status in May 2022 to spend more time with his beloved wife, Sharla, after serving as a professor at USC for three decades.

“The term ‘living legend’ is overused, but I was lucky enough to work alongside a real one for almost 25 years,” Medvidovic said. “Barry defined an era in software engineering, and I feel lucky to have known him.”

Posted September 1, 2022

Last updated September 1, 2022

Gordon K. Morehouse