For the past seven years, I have participated in the Software Engineering program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The Capstone course is the culmination of all the students’ learning through their four-year program. I am usually one of the guest judges and IBM offers a small monetary reward for the group we feel produces the best product and presentation. This year I missed judging (this past Sunday) because I was sick, but I was still able to participate by giving a talk last November about Usability and Learnability in software.
IBM judges sit on the panel and try to act as venture capitalists or real customers of the pretend companies that the students have created. Professor Spencer Smith assigns the task at the beginning of September and the students present their final projects in mid-March. So a lot of potential work has gone into these projects. We recommend winners, which each year becomes tougher and tougher because the projects are getting so good.
The assignments have varied from robots that conduct search and rescue operations to machines that test tensile strength of materials. At the heart of any of these physical systems is the software the students design and write, applying everything they have learned from all of their previous courses.
In addition to the demonstration of their technical abilities, the students often get a chance to show off some business acumen and just plain showmanship in some of their presentations. The judging is well worth the day-long commitment one Sunday a year.