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SIGCAS Making A DIfference Award 2009

by Chris Harr last modified 2010-02-18 11:14



Cem Kaner, who is honored as the 2009 recipient of SIGCAS’ Making A Difference Award, is a Professor of Software Engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology, and an attorney. His career focuses on the discipline-spanning core themes of safety and satisfaction of software customers and workers. He has worked as a programmer, technical writer, software tester, human factors analyst, software development manager, software salesperson, test manager, technical publications manager, development director, independent development consultant, professor, and attorney, focused on the law of software quality.

Kaner has participated in the drafting of important legal guidelines regarding software safety: the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (1999, later federalized as ESIGN), the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA, 2000), and the American Law Institute's (ALI) Principles of the Law of Software Contracts (2009). He recruited the participation of the press and several professional societies (including ACM, IEEE, ASQ, ICCA and SEI) into the UCITA process, and authored  a book, BAD SOFTWARE (see, as well as more than 100 papers and conference presentations, to explain the societal implications of this proposed legislation. UCITA ultimately failed in all but two states, where it was adopted after significant amendment, but Kaner is committed to furthering the cause of software-focused legislation, and he continues his  work on reverse engineering and accountability for known software defects.   In recognition of this work, he was elected to the American Law Institute and recruited into USACM.

Kaner has also worked on standards for electronic voting equipment, as a participant in the IEEE P1583 Voting Equipment Standards project (2004 - 2009), and as a member of  the United States Election Assistance Commission's Technical Guidance Development Committee (2007 - 2009).  And, he serves on ACM’s Task Force on Licensing of Software Engineers Working on Safety-Critical Software, and studies the risks and benefits of holding software engineers liable for malpractice (in the United States, accountability for malpractice is part of what comes with licensing).

Kaner sees much of software engineering as applied social science. He rejects the common definition of a computer program as a "set of instructions for a computer" in favor of "a communication among people, often distributed in space and time, written in a simplified language that can be executed by a computer." He argues that most software engineering metrics are human performance measures. He began writing Testing Computer Software (1987, 2nd ed 1993, 2000) in 1983, in which he advocates an approach that relies more on the cognitive skills of the tester than on routine processes. He coined the term "exploratory testing" and argued that testing is more importantly about assessing the worth of a product or service than its conformance to documentation. He is one of the founders of the "context-driven school" of software testing (  "Context-driven testers choose their testing objectives, techniques, and deliverables (including test documentation) by looking first to the details of the specific situation, including the desires of the stakeholders who commissioned the testing. The essence of context-driven testing is project-appropriate application of skill and judgment. The Context-Driven School of testing places this approach to testing within a humanistic social and ethical framework." He is also one of the founders (current Executive Vice President) of the Association for Software Testing.

Kaner shifted from running a successful consulting / legal business to university teaching in order to develop a skills-focused curriculum for software testing. Funded by the National Science Foundation, he and his wife and colleague Rebecca Fiedler have  created Creative Commons licensed course videos, slides, assessment materials and instructor-training guides that are now widely used in online testing courses. (For more information, see and

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