Jon Whittle


The Democratization of Software Systems Development

Jon Whittle

School of Computing and Communications, Lancaster University, UK

A range of developments in the past decade or so are radically transforming the very nature of software systems engineering. Mobile app stores, hackathons, the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, the Cloud, and other DIY development approaches are creating a new class of 'citizen developers', or those who are not trained as software engineers but, nevertheless, are designing, implementing and evaluating software systems for a variety of commercial, not-for-profit, and hobbyist applications.

These new trends force us to ask a fundamental question about software systems development: are the methods and approaches which have evolved over decades for rigorous software engineering sufficient for this new world in which development is in the hands of citizen developers building and maintaining systems 'in the wild'?

In this talk, I will describe our work over the last five years in developing software systems that promote social change. Our projects are highly interdisciplinary, involving a range of stakeholders from social contexts as well as developers. We have found that existing development methods are not sufficient and have come to develop our own combination of participatory design and agile methods that allows very rapid development of applications that can have a positive social benefit, where these applications are co-developed with end-users.

These projects include: technology development for the homeless, digital social anxiety management systems for autistic adults, renewable energy visualisation systems, and systems that promote local economies. The talk will reflect on the successes (and failures) of these projects and what this means to the future of software systems engineering.


Prof. Jon Whittle is Head of the School of Computing and Communications and Chair of Software Engineering at Lancaster University. Before that, he worked as an Associate Professor at George Mason University, VA, and for 6 years as a Technical Area Lead at NASA Ames Research Center, where he worked on and led projects on rigorous software development for space missions. Jon leads and manages a number of large funded interdisciplinary research projects investigating how digital technologies (mobile computing, social networking, data analytics, etc.) and software engineering can promote social change. He works in collaboration with civil society groups to jointly imagine, build and evaluate next generation digital solutions to social issues. In the last five years, he has obtained over Ł5M in research funding for these activities. Jon is also a well-known figure in software engineering research communities, having served on the PC of most major academic conferences in this area, including ICSE, MODELS, ASE, AOSD, and RE. He is a leading expert on model-driven development, and his work empirically evaluating model-driven development in industry, is widely cited.