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System Architecture, the Missing Piece of Engineering Education

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Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference



Publication Date

April 9, 2021

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April 9, 2021

End Date

April 10, 2021

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Eric B. Dano BAE Systems

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Dr. Eric Dano received a B.S. in Physics from the U.S. Naval Academy, and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan, where his research focused on radar design and the Experimental Study of the Microwave Radar Backscatter from Transient Deep-Water Breaking Waves. He has worked at Sanders Associates/BAE Systems for over 23 years, where he has built on his experience as a former USMC Electronic Countermeasures Officer to architect and design a myriad of military systems. Eric currently serves as a Technical Director in the CEMA business area and leads the System Architecture Community of Practice where he is tasked with improving the practice of System Architecture of complex systems in the Electronics Systems business sector. This role involves both the development and teaching of the four course system architecture curriculum to staff engineers. Dr. Dano is a member of Sigma Pi Sigma, ASEE, a Senior Member of IEEE, President of the NE Chapter of INCOSE, and represents BAE Systems on the NDIA MOSA committee.

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Abstract— It is unlikely that anyone would allow for the development of a complex system such as a house, ship, aircraft, or even more abstracted systems such as a hospital or humanitarian aid network, without first painstakingly determining the high level conceptual design and required top level functionality. From there, several holistic system thinking techniques would be applied to define lower level functionality, system constraints, external interfaces and required system properties. The lower level functionality would then be aggregated and partitioned into the defined system elements. This series of key engineering activities constitutes the major elements of system architecture, which is an essential predecessor to any successful engineering effort, especially as the complexity of systems/systems of systems continue to grow.

Unfortunately, these architecture-centric activities and system thinking techniques are not typically part of an engineering curriculum. Undergraduate academics are so filled with core courses and humanities that domain learning is primarily limited to the upper class years, leaving little room for system architecture. Noticing the gap in system architecture education, several universities have recently started offering architecture related graduate degrees/certificates. However, with very limited graduates going to any one organization, it is insufficient to truly seed the architecture domain knowledge required in an engineering organization. Clearly, university based architecture education alone, is not enough. The architectural education process must be continued into organizations where it can reach all engineers, whether they are serving in an architecture capacity, or in a design capacity where they should know what artifacts to expect from the architect to ensure a successful effort.

This paper will address how both the undergraduate academic curriculum and organizational training can be improved to provide the requisite architecture domain knowledge. Rather than expanding the number of undergraduate academic courses, it is recommended that the existing courses implement the use of multiple system thinking techniques to develop the core architecture-centric thinking skills which can be applied to multiple domains. Engineering organizations will continue the architecture-centric education through domain specific training, and the introduction of architecture development possesses and tools. A methodology will be described to assess architectural competency in an organization and identify areas where additional system architecture education/training is required. With these measures in place, organizations will be much better suited for the development of a diverse set of complex systems well into the future. Examples of architecting a military payload, and a humanitarian aid network will be used in this paper to emphasize the broad applicability of the proposed approach and methodology.

Dano, E. B. (2021, April), System Architecture, the Missing Piece of Engineering Education Paper presented at Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference, Virtual . 10.18260/1-2--36319

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