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Computer scientistsÂ at Carnegie Mellon University are working with theÂ Kenya Information and Communication Technology (ICT) BoardÂ to create a credentialing examination that will help employers identify software developers with the skills necessary to step into jobs immediately.
Just as airline pilots, heart surgeons and lifeguards earn their professional credentials by demonstrating on-the-job skills, the examination for the new Software Developer Certification will be whatâ€™s known as an authentic exam, in that it will require people taking it to perform the kind of tasks encountered in an actual work environment. Exam takers will add software features, correct errors or otherwise make modifications on a model software system.
The exam initially will be implemented in Kenya, but is intended to become an international benchmark for use by employers worldwide.
â€œAs reliable software becomes ever more crucial to commerce and industry, companies are demanding better ways to identify potential employees with the skills necessary for building and maintaining software,â€ said Mark S. Kamlet, Carnegie Mellon executive vice president and provost. â€œWith the support of Kenya, Carnegie Mellon is developing an innovative solution to this worldwide problem.â€
Kenya has invested heavily in ICT infrastructure and workforce preparation. The Software Developer Certification would make it easy and cost effective for companies in Kenyaâ€™s expanding ICT and financial services sector to identify qualified job applicants. It also would signal to the global software sector that Kenya is a source of well-trained workers.
â€œKenya is emerging as the epicenter for ICT innovations and a software development hub,â€ said Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication and a guiding force behind the expansion of ICT in Kenya. â€œWe want to lead from the front and be the technology partner of choice on the African continent.â€
Software accounts for a growing percentage of spending in all sectors of the economy. Africa has long been left behind by the IT revolution, but now is taking strides to make up lost ground. The opportunities for Kenya, as well as the continent as a whole, are immense.
Kenya is sponsoring development of the certification through the Kenya Transparency and Communications Infrastructure Project (KTCIP), which is funded by the World Bank and headed by Victor Kyalo.
The Kenya ICT Board has dubbed this project CHIPUKA, a Swahili word meaning â€œto emerge or to spring forth.â€ It is one of a portfolio of projects the government has created to support development of outsourcing services for information technology-based business functions.
â€œSoftware engineering holds great promise for our economy, hence our choice to invest in certifying our youth so they can take advantage of the emerging opportunities,â€ said Paul Kukubo, CEO of the Kenya ICT Board. â€œKenya’s ambitions with this project are to be the leading software development center in Africa and a significant global software player by engaging our latent intellectual capital.â€
A number of certification programs for software engineers already exist. But many of those programs only test for general knowledge of software, rather than actually requiring the exam taker to write software. Others certify competence for only certain software environments or only a certain vendorâ€™s tool set. The Software Developer Certification being created for CHIPUKA would be the first authentic examination that is attuned to the needs of the industry in general and is vendor-neutral in its selection of programming language and professional tools.
â€œOur challenge is to identify the general skills that software developers must have and then develop model software systems that will enable us to evaluate those skills during an exam,â€ said Randal E. Bryant, dean of theÂ School of Computer ScienceÂ (SCS) and one of the researchers developing the certification. â€œWe also must make certain that the exam remains up to date and affordable.â€
Philip Miller, a project scientist at SCS who is leading the project, said a pilot exam will be ready by March 2013, and the certification should be fully operational in Kenya by October 2013. It remains to be determined when the exam might be made available worldwide, he added.
In addition to Bryant and Miller, the CMU researchers include Roger Dannenberg, associate research professor of computer science; Robert Seacord, secure coding team lead at Carnegie Mellon’s well-knownSoftware Engineering InstituteÂ (SEI), and SEI certification experts Jefferson Welch, Marsha Pomeroy-Huff and Mary Ellen Rich. Andrew Lewela Mwanyota has primary responsibility for the project at the Kenya ICT Board.