Teaching Architecture Metamodel-First

May 25, 2014 | George Fairbanks

Despite software architecture being recognized as a discipline for about two decades, it is not commonly taught in universities or to practitioners. One potential obstacle is the highly abstract nature of the subject: Less experienced students quickly forget the abstract lessons and experienced students feel that software architecture is disconnected from their daily work.

In this talk, I discuss a novel approach to teaching software architecture based on metamodels. Students start by sketching a simple system. I then discuss typical flaws (e.g., showing a runtime “box” talking to a compile-time “box”) and build their understanding of the metamodel behind the diagram, including views for compile time, runtime, and allocation. I provide a standard palette (i.e., metamodel) for each view, and students learn why the constrained metamodel aids their reasoning.

The overall message is that a diagram is really a model, and models elide details, so it is essential to know what question a model should answer so you can reveal (and elide) the right details. Then the students repeat the same exercise of sketching a simple system, with improved results. I have applied this approach with about 50 software engineers at my current company with good results: students stay engaged and report that the lessons are directly relevant to their daily work.


George Fairbanks is a software developer, designer, and architect living in New York city


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