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IEEE CSDP Assessment Course

posted Aug 14, 2013, 6:56 PM by Christopher Ellison

I have been slowly working my way through the IEEE’s CSDP assessment course in preparation for taking the CSDP exam later this year.  Having completed the course, I can say unequivocally that these tutorials are not worth the money.  I don't believe I've gone through a single tutorial without finding errors in the presented data ranging from simple typos to omitted topics to wildly incorrect information presented.

First, I want to provide a little background.  I decided to sign up for the CSDP because I know that I’m very task oriented.  Setting myself up with a goal and a definitive end date forces me to study these topics, some of which I’ll admit I have less experience with than others (for example, the financial aspects discussed in the Software Engineering Economics section of the CSDP).  I don’t know or really care about the usefulness of the certification itself at this point (more about that later).  I’m purely using this coursework as a motivator to keep myself studying.

Now that my goals are clear, let me talk about the issues with the coursework.  As I mentioned, the errors are often simple typos, but they are also frequent enough to render the content somewhat confusing.  If these tutorials were just an outline of topics to review before taking the CSDP, this would be more forgivable, but they're not presented that way: they're presented as a relevant overview of the material in question.  That doesn't work so well when they present incorrect and incomplete data.  

More problematic (and more on the topic of incorrect data), the CSDP course also contains numerous examples of blatantly incorrect quiz answers.  I found it quite frustrating having to double-check myself every time one of the mid-course Test Your Understanding questions was completely wrong (usually having obviously been copy-pasted from an earlier question without fixing the underlying script that records correct vs. incorrect answers).  

The final problem I ran into with the coursework was the most annoying.  The quiz questions regularly address topics not covered in the tutorial.  Now, to be clear, I don't expect each tutorial to be a masters course on each and every topic potentially covered in the CSDP.  However, if a topic is important enough for reference in a tutorial question, it should at least be mentioned prior to that point in the tutorial.  For just one example, getting halfway through the Software Engineering Professional Practice tutorial and suddenly seeing questions about Theory Z and TQM stalls me as I think, “Did I miss a slide someplace?”  I’m not against going out and doing a little additional reading; I just think it’s particularly bad form to toss a question out about something only tangentially related to software engineering without first mentioning something like, “Hey, here are a couple of management theories we’re going to talk about” -- particularly since this is a software engineering certificate, not an MBA course.

Given the cost of signing up for this course (currently listed at $445 or $545, depending on your IEEE membership status), I'm incredibly disappointed in the content.  I encourage anyone currently interested in the CSDP to skip the course; you'll do better reviewing on your own based on the exam outline. I hope that the course content will see some refinement and editing in future years and will become useful, but for now, it’s simply a waste of money.

To be clear, I think that some kind of software engineering certification scheme is probably necessary if we want to bring software engineering into the same realm as other engineering disciplines.  After reviewing this coursework, though, I’m just not sure we’re as close as we’d perhaps like to believe.  I’m hoping that the IEEE will improve the course (and probably the CSDP itself, though I can’t judge that until I’ve taken it) in the next year or two.  For now, it just serves to remind me how far we still have to go.