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SEI Celebrates a Quarter Century of Leadership


January 19, 2010—This year, the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) will celebrate its 25th anniversary as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). While the Institute celebrates its past accomplishments, it is ready to tackle the new and upcoming technology challenges in software and systems engineering. With the anniversary theme of Driving the Future of Complex Systems, the SEI is prepared to perform cutting-edge research that will continue to transform the way software is developed.

It was late in 1984 that Carnegie Mellon University received word that it had been awarded the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) contract for an FFRDC focused on research to improve the practice of software engineering as an emerging discipline. The contract established the SEI as one of 10 FFRDCs sponsored by the DoD. In early 1985, the Institute opened its doors. 

To put perspective on what was happening in the United States in 1985, the average U.S. household income was $22,650, a movie ticket was $3.55, and a gallon of gas cost $1.09. On TV, we were watching the Cosby Show, Cheers, MacGyver, and Hill Street Blues. In technology, the first .com domain name,, was registered by the Symbolics Corporation; Microsoft released the first version of Windows, Windows 1.0; and compact discs were introduced to American consumers.

The SEI has reason to celebrate its quarter century of leadership, excellence, and growth. Through research performed for the DoD, the SEI moved from its flagship methodology—the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI)—to research advances in software product lines, software architecture, and the establishment of CERT, the world’s best known network and computer security program. The SEI has provided organizations worldwide with the knowledge, research, tools and technologies to improve the way to develop software.

“The SEI is a leader in understanding and providing solutions for computer and network security, in software architecture and a leader in software acquisition. Its influence extends across many aspects of society and around the world. We are proud to have SEI as part of our university and I congratulate all who have worked so hard to get to this important anniversary,” said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University.

Paul D. Nielsen, CEO and director of the SEI stated that the SEI has a great heritage and reputation in the community. “The SEI has led the way in so many different facets of software engineering that have made a dramatic impact in our world today,” said Nielsen. “Our core purpose is to improve the state of the art in software engineering and to transition this work to the community. Our work has enabled organizations worldwide to develop more reliable, more secure, and more dependable software.”

But, Nielsen said, the SEI’s work is just getting started. “Software is everywhere. It is not limited to just computers and military weapon systems. It is part of our everyday life in automobiles, phones, kitchen appliances, and airplanes. But, as technology rapidly changes, the development and use of software is ever changing and growing exponentially. We cannot afford to rest on our past accomplishments, but rather we must look to the future to see how we might be able to resolve challenges in complex systems.”

The SEI has renewed its emphasis on research that will enable it to expand its legacy of network and systems survivability. Evaluating research against the current and future demands of the DoD, the SEI will focus on the cyber environment and related technologies to enable organizations worldwide to address cyber intelligence, workforce development, acquisition excellence for software-reliant systems, and flexible systems capabilities.

Current research that will have long-term benefits includes looking at how economic theory and game theory play into the development of software systems and the creation of a concept lab that will explore how social networking technology and software engineering technology need to be designed and operated. The SEI is continuing to lead the way in computer forensics, insider threat and secure coding research. In addition, the SEI best practices in process improvement and performance management continue to be implemented by global organizations.

“We may be 25 years old, but we are only just beginning,” said Nielsen. “This is an exciting time to be part of today’s technological advances. We look forward to the next 25 years and providing organizations the research, skills, and tools they need to build better, faster, more reliable, and more secure software.”