By Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed

DESPITE THE current national unpredictable situations and living problems (e.g. conditional government support, unavailability of proper electricity, insecure and unstable political situations), surprisingly the IT industry in Pakistan is still growing, independently as well in collaboration with the International industries. Following the same pace, the IT academia of the country is also playing a vital role in producing competent and talented professionals, capable of marking the excellence. In most of the cases, especially when we talk about the leading initiators of both the industry (e.g. Netsol Technologies, Techlogix, Mindstorm Studios etc.) and academia (e.g. NUST, NUCES, UCP, LUMS, COMSATS etc.), are independently doing exceptionally well, and producing results up to the international standards. We can proudly present, compare and compete with them worldwide.
The motivation behind this article is to introduce that how can we bridge the potential of academia with the experience of professionalism to take advantage in further flourishing the IT structure in Pakistan. There could be many reasons for the gap existing between industry and academia but most of all is the lack of awareness about the faced industrial problems and common academic interests. This industry-academia collaboration could be made and strengthened using the concepts of software Product Line Architecture (PLA).
Decades ago, the Software Engineering products started developing using a single product engineering concepts, which means each time for the new product, a new design has to be implemented. Later, due to the high customers expectations for the quality products in the short time and economic budget, products started becoming larger in size and complex in nature, which led to the negative impact on the software development productivity, effort and schedule. To handle such issues, in late 90s, IT communities started considering Product Line Architecture (PLA) approach, well renowned in the manufacturing industry. PLA has been proposed to streamline the product development process in modular form by splitting the software development life cycle in concurrent phases. In short and swift; its about to create the network of small sub-projects which will work independently for the specific tasks as well as capable of integrating with other sub-projects to form a complete application, as the whole.
Converging the focus back to the original point, most of us know that at the final stage of the degree completion (e.g. Bachelor/Master/Ph.D.), in almost all of Pakistans technical institutes, students are required to do a research thesis. Here, at this crucial time, when students are just about to complete their course work and with no such good research experience, are asked for the novel ideas which in most of the cases end like e.g. students following others, getting unnecessary influences of the available supervisors and even some times developing a negative thought of just completing some projects in any way to fulfil the degree requirements, which in my opinion, can ultimately kill the cause of doing that university education programme, in which they have been engaged and paid for some years.
One should accept the reality that it is not easily possible for each graduating students (e.g. thousands a year) to come up with different and constructive ideas, even if somehow student comes then the next challenge is to find the most suitable supervisors. If again somehow student fortunately able to find some appropriate university supervisor then it makes a good sense otherwise it becomes an extra headache for the assigned supervisor to advise a thesis without in depth understanding, knowledge and interest. This problem can be resolved and even turned into the potential augmentation for raising the standards of research and development of university in collaboration with industry. This time initiative has to be taken by university administrations by finding some most suitable staff members having teaching experiences, good thesis supervision abilities, basics of Software PLA knowledge and willing of involving some good industrial professionals.
To do next: new ideas with most suited practical approaches against realistic industrial problems should be undertaken. Students of relevant interest must be guided, picked and divided into groups. Software PLA architectures would be drawn by the supervisors and engaged IT professionals. Here, the most important thing to remember is, that the scope of the main project shouldnt be small but planned in a way that one research project may require at least 5 to 10 years of efforts. An end of a thesis will lead to the start of the next upcoming.
As the result, not only most of the students will get rid of the stress in selecting fruitful proposals, learn at maximum, absorb team management skills and link to the companies, but also the research standards of universities will increase. Ultimately it will help Pakistan IT structure and industry to gear up their solutions factory and finding talented staff for the future.
The author is associated with the University of Wuerzburg Germany.

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