Westmont Magazine Engineering a New Program
As professor and Motorola Regents Chair of Software Engineering, Dewayne Perry ’62 faces many challenges as he assumes a leadership role in software engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Appointed jointly to the departments of electrical and computer engineering and computer science, he is also directing a new research center. His goal is developing the leading program of its kind in the nation. He must design a new curriculum, recruit qualified faculty — and figure out how to move his sizable ceramics collection from New Jersey to Texas.
A leading researcher and scholar in the developing field of software engineering, Dewayne worked for 16 years at Bell Labs. After earning his Ph.D. in computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, he also taught part time at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn. Keeping one foot in development and one in research, he has published extensively and worked with people all over the world.
But he started out as a music and philosophy major at Westmont. “The kind of software engineering education I envision stems directly from the kind of teaching and interaction between faculty and students I experienced during my four years at Westmont as a music major,” he says. “It’s a far cry from computer science and software engineering, but amazingly relevant because of the way that John Hubbard and Bill Beasley taught music at Westmont.”
After he graduated, Dewayne went to graduate school intending to become a college professor. He enrolled at UC Los Angeles and studied logic, philosophy, and music. During a break from school, he fell into a job as a computer programmer for System Development Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., and never looked back. He helped develop parts of an early time-sharing system on one of the first transistor machines.
Then he moved on to Planning Research Corp. where he spent five years doing programming and system design for government-related projects. At his next job with Quotron Systems, he designed and built half of Dun & Bradstreet’s credit-reporting mini-computer system. This experience helped him move to New Jersey and establish his own firm, Pegasus Systems. He worked for 11 years as a consultant to Dun & Bradstreet and others providing design and architecture for systems at the leading edge of software technology. His wife, Faith Mell Perry ’62, joined him in the business after an 11-year career as a Los Angeles County social worker. In 1983, Dewayne went to work at Bell Labs. Faith continued with Pegasus Systems until her mother began to require full-time care.
Dewayne says software engineering is about “building systems, and not just about programming. Moreover, software engineers must balance the push for technology with the needs of the users.
“There’s a danger in paying too much attention to technological aspects and overlooking organizational and social factors when developing software,” Dewayne adds. He believes in a holistic approach and considers data about real users essential.
One of his recent projects focused on programmers from different countries who collaborate. How can they replace informal contacts that occur naturally when people are located in the same place? How can they overcome barriers like multiple time zones and different languages and cultures? To solve these problems, Dewayne evaluated the performance of such programmers to determine what made them successful — or why they failed. “It is by these kinds of empirical studies that we will improve both software engineering and the systems we build,” he notes.
Dewayne continues his interest in music, and his Web site (www.ece.utexas.edu/~perry/) lists his favorite composers. One of the Perrys’ collecting passions is modern studio ceramics, and a list of their favorite potters also appear on the site.
The couple has been active at Central Presbyterian Church in Summit, N.J., Dewayne as an elder, and Faith as a deacon and Stephens minister. They sing in the church choir, and Dewayne also performs regularly as a soloist.
Dewayne and Faith are building a new house in Austin as well as a new program. “We look forward to exciting new challenges,” he says.