Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
IsNew No
Tribute Author
Membership Directory

Search this Publication

  • BARRY W. BOEHM (1935-2022)



    BARRY WILLIAM BOEHM, noted computer scientist, systems engineer, and emeritus professor of computer science at the University of Southern California (USC), died August 20, 2022, at age 87. His career included important work in the aerospace industry, in government service, and in academia.

    Until his retirement on May 15, 2022, he was a distinguished professor of computer science, industrial and systems engineering, and astronautics and holder of the TRW Chair. He was also founding director of the USC Center for Systems and Software Engineering (CSSE) and chief scientist of the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC), funded by the US Department of Defense and jointly managed by the Stevens Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.

    He was born May 16, 1935, in Santa Monica, CA. He received his BA (1957) from Harvard University and his MS (1961) and PhD (1964) from UCLA, all in mathematics.

    His career in the aerospace industry included working at General Dynamics (1955–59), the Rand Corporation (1959–73)—where he met his future wife, Sharla Perrine, who herself did pioneering computer work in packet switching—and TRW (1973–89; where I met him in 1977). He then spent three years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as an office director. In 1992 he joined the USC faculty as TRW Professor in Software Engineering.

    Most people would be content to have one major breakthrough in their career. Dr. Boehm had two: he invented the first formal method to estimate the cost and schedule duration for a software development effort, which he called the constructive cost model (COCOMO), and the spiral model of software development, which recognized that large software-intensive projects require a well-managed incremental approach. Countless variations on this seemingly simple idea have emerged over the decades, culminating in the current, widely adopted, agile software development methodology.

    Dr. Boehm liked to tell a story about the creation of COCOMO. When he was at TRW, a competitive bid for a major satellite program was prepared. The vice president in charge of the division, Robert Walquist, received presentations about all of the subsystems and components and why the price that the team wanted to bid for that portion was realistic—except software: the software team offered no justification for their price. After the meeting, Mr. Walquist pulled Dr. Boehm aside and said, “I never want to have to sign off on another software bid based just on faith. Go and invent a way credibly to estimate the cost of developing a software product.” And so he did!

    Both of these creations have had a vast influence on the methods of software development, are used throughout the world, and have fundamentally changed the path used by millions of practitioners. The field of computer science was forever changed for the better by his work.

    He chaired the committees for many students who completed their PhDs in computer science, in astronautics, and in industrial and systems engineering (including me!). I believe he supervised about 50 completed PhDs.

    In addition to these commitments, he volunteered his expertise in service to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. He was appointed to the study committees on Advancing Software-Intensive Systems Producibility (2006–10), Human-System Design Support for Changing Technology (2005–07), and Review of the Past and Present Contexts for Using Ada in the Department of Defense (chair; 1996–97); and he was appointed to two workshop committees, one on Statistical Methods in Software Engineering for Defense Systems (2001–03), and one on Space Station Engineering Design Issues (1988–89). He also served on the NAE Awards Committee (2007–09).

    He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1996. He also won awards too numerous to count—I remember his secretary once pointing out a stack of boxes in his office, saying that they were all “full of plaques and awards.” Among these were the Lifetime Achievement Award (1994) from the American Society for Quality Control, the ACM Distinguished Research Award in Software Engineering (1997), the Harlan D. Mills Award (2000) from the IEEE Computer Society, and the Stevens Award (2011). He received the IEEE Simon Ramo Medal in 2010 for leadership in and innovative solutions to the integration of systems engineering and software engineering and the Pioneer Award from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) in 2019 for his work as a systems pioneer uniquely contributing to the advancement of systems engineering through extensive research, education, and the application thereof in industry. He was a fellow of the AIAA, the ACM, and INCOSE, and he was an IEEE Life Fellow. In 2011, in honor of his 75th birthday, the Institute of Software, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS), and the International Journal of Software and Informatics jointly hosted a conference attended by experts and scholars in the software engineering field from seven countries. He was appointed a distinguished professor at USC in 2014.

    He published more than 170 articles and several books and had more than 70,000 total citations. These included Software Engineering Economics (Prentice Hall, 1st ed., 1981, published in several versions since), with more than 12,000 citations, and his 1988 article “A spiral model of software development and enhancement,”1 which had nearly 8000 citations.

    Dr. Boehm’s friend and colleague Azad Madni (NAE 2021) had this to say:
    For many years, Barry and I shared a common interest – exploiting the synergy between systems and software engineering in order to address complex DOD and aerospace challenges. In 2006 this vision became a reality with the formation of the USC Center for Systems and Software Engineering, the first center of its kind. Under Barry’s leadership, the center thrived, addressing the most pressing need of aerospace and defense: the affordable development of software-intensive systems.
    In 2009, Barry became the chief scientist of the newly formed Systems Engineering Research Center, a DOD University-Affiliated Research Center, comprising more than 20 universities (jointly led by Stevens Institute and USC) devoted to advancing the state of the art in systems engineering in specific areas of DOD interest. I had the distinct honor of collaborating with Barry on various SERC projects for well over a decade.
    In 2010 I reached out to Barry to join me in organizing and running the Conference on Systems Engineering Research, cofounded by USC and Stevens Institute.
    Barry left an indelible mark on [the SERC] through his inspired leadership and impressive results. With his passing, the systems and software engineering community has lost a giant in the field. And I lost a dear friend and irreplaceable collaborator.

    Barry remained remarkably active well into his 80s. He gave up surfing only a few years before his passing, and he continued tennis until very near the end. Among those of us who traveled with him he was almost legendary for his energy and his desire to always find something fun and interesting to do at the location of any conference or meeting. We discovered that we both had read Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels as children, and we used the book as a guide to find interesting places to visit, regularly sending updates to each other (“I just returned from a visit to chapter 53”).

    Dr. Boehm is survived by his wife of 61 years, Sharla, daughters Romney Boehm and Tenley Burke, and two grandsons.

    We were fortunate to work in the presence of a true giant and to call him our friend.

    1Published in IEEE Computer 21(5):61–72.