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Software Process Pioneer Watts Humphrey Dies


Watts Humphrey, who founded the software process program at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) and who received the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush, died today at his home in Sarasota, Florida. He was 83.

Watts, who was called the “father of software quality” by Business Week, dedicated the majority of his career to addressing problems in software development. He was the pioneering innovator behind several important software development processes, including the Software Capability Maturity Model and the Software Process Assessment and Software Capability Evaluation methods. These later became the basis for the development of the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) framework of software engineering best practices that have been adopted by thousands of organizations across the globe.“Watts Humphrey was one of the icons of software engineering — one of a handful of engineers like Barry Boehm, Fred Brooks, and Vic Basili who have helped define this young field,” said SEI director and CEO Dr. Paul Nielsen. “Watts brought engineering to software engineering. His work has had immeasurable impact on the global software community, tirelessly urging the community to emphasize quality, measurement, and performance.”

“Changing the world of anything is an outrageous personal commitment,” Humphrey said in an interview in early 2010, discussing his decision to come to the SEI at Carnegie Mellon University. “I knew I couldn’t do it alone, and I wanted to be in an environment where I could work with folks and do that.”

“As the pioneering innovator behind several important software development processes, Humphrey more than met his promise to change the world of software engineering. His contributions go well beyond methodology and the many awards and accolades he received. For decades, his work inspired software engineers and his colleagues and friends worldwide. His warmth, energy, great spirit and dedication will be missed by all of us at Carnegie Mellon,” said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University.

Watts came to the SEI after working for nearly three decades at IBM where, as director of programming and vice-president of technical development, he supervised 4,000 software professionals spread across 15 laboratories in seven countries.

“When Watts began his work, he faced his critics, but never gave up on his commitment that software development could be more effectively managed by process,” said Larry Druffel, SEI director and CEO from 1986 to 1996. “We all understood the importance of things like version control, configuration management, and methodology, but I don’t think that anyone knew how to put that into a transferable form. That’s what Watts did for the field of software engineering. There were enough people out there criticizing his approach, but he stayed with it, and he made it work.”

Humphrey explained his motivation in a 2010 oral history for the Computer History Museum. “We’re not going to get very few defects per million lines of code by just having people try hard and hope they’re doing it well. The lack of a really serious attack on this problem by the entire community, the academics, the theoretical types, industry is, I think, totally irresponsible. People need to understand that poor quality software work is responsible for just about all of the problems in the software business.”

For his work in software engineering, Humphrey was awarded the 2003 National Medal of Technology which he received from President George W. Bush in a special ceremony at the White House in 2005. Humphrey was the author of 12 books on software engineering and hundreds of technical reports, journal articles, and columns. The Watts Humphrey Software Quality Institute in Chennai, India, is named after him.

He is remembered with love by his brother Bill Humphrey, sister Dorothy Bedell, wife Barbara, children Kate Pickman, Lisa Fish, Sarah Humphrey, Watts S. Humphrey Jr., Peter Humphrey, Erica Jarrett and Christopher Humphrey, and 11 grandchildren.


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