A History of the VT Group

The Verification and Testing Research Group has existed in some form or other for over thirty years.  Here we describe a brief history of the group's evolution, with some of the main highlights.  The group has had a considerable impact on both research and teaching.

Thr@sh - Theory Research at Sheffield (1985-87)
1985 Mike Holcombe joins the Department of Computer Science and, together with Mike Stannett, founds a research group dedicated to Computer Science Theory.  Following the styling of Spl@ash (Speech Lab at Sheffield - the original Speech and Hearing Research Group), the new Theory group is named Thr@sh (Theory Research at Sheffield).
1986 Steve Clarke becomes the first PhD student.  Holcombe sees in Eilenberg's X-Machine the potential for a useful specification model for testing.  The group's initial research agenda includes:  algorithms to find a minimal X-Machine, analogue X-Machines (related to hypercomputation), belief logics and human-computer interaction.
1987 An early standard example of X-Machines is to model the citric acid cycle as an ATP-Machine: this foreshadows the later interests of the group in Computational Biology.  Tony Simons teaches object-oriented programming on the MSc in Intelligent Knowledge-Based Systems: he is the original object-orienteer at Sheffield.
FormSoft - Formal Methods and Software Engineering (1987-94)
1987 Doug Lewin arrives as the new Head of Department and grants Computer Science joint membership of the Faculties of Engineering and Pure Science.  Already an established Software Engineer, he sets up a new degree in Software Engineering alongside the Computer Science degree.
1987 Tony Cowling joins the group, which is expanded with a Software Engineering component and is renamed FormSoft (Formal Methods and Software Engineering).  Tony starts working on his magnum opus on "the datatype TYPE" and on developing the Software Engineering curriculum.
1988 In April, Doug Lewin and Tony Simons (French-speaking) are part of a high-level Sheffield delegation to Algeria to recruit PhD students.  Tony negotiates our way out of Algiers, past a hijacked Kuwaiti Boeing 747 controlled by Lebanese Hezbollah sympathisers.
1988 In August, after suffering two heart attacks in July, Doug Lewin unfortunately dies.  We remember him today in the name of our main teaching lab in Regent Court, and in an annual prize given to a distinction quality student.
1988 The first intake on the Software Engineering degree starts in the Autumn.  The Maxi Project becomes part of the MSc in Software Systems Technology, managed by software professional and expert legal witness Stan Price.
1989 Mike Holcombe takes over as Head of Department and steers us through a time of having too few staff and too many Algerian PhD students!  Tony Simons (a lecturer and staff PhD candidate) moves sideways from Spl@sh and joins FormSoft to pursue his interests in object-oriented language design and type theory. 
1989 The whole department moves from the Hicks Building to the refurbished Portobello Centre (formerly a data centre for Lucas car-parts).  Mike Holcombe operates the Large Scale Analysis and Design (LSAD) open-ended research project for first-year students (an idea inspired by Doug Lewin).
1990 Zhenhua Duan joins the FormSoft group and works with Mike Holcombe for a while on Hybrid X-Machines.  Gilbert Laycock works as a PhD student on linking formal specifications with testing through X-Machines.  Mike Stannett publishes a paper on Analog X-Machines as a kind of super-Turing computation.
1991 Steve Maddock (Graphics), Martin Cooke (Spl@ash) and Mike Holcombe develop the Crossover Project, a staged simulation of the software lifecycle, to replace the LSAD project.  This is eventually adopted by many other universities.
1991 Tony Simons and Mark Dunn (ACSE) start teaching the object-oriented language Eiffel to Software Engineers.  Later, Tony teaches Smalltalk and also C++ as specialist modules to Computer Scientists.
1992 Mike Stannett and Gilbert Laycock hold a successful local workshop on X-Machines.  Gilbert develops his theory of testable Stream X-Machines.  Tony Cowling publishes his first draft of "the datatype TYPE".  Tony Simons and Tony Cowling publish a monograph on harmonising types, inheritance and polymorphism.
1992 In the autumn, the whole department moves from the Portobello Centre to the newly-built Regent Court.  Colin Smythe arrives and introduces new interests in high-speed ADSL networking.  Peter Croll (Parallel Processing Group) develops new interests in safety-critical systems.
1993 Gilbert Laycock publishes his influential thesis on Stream X-Machines.  Florentin Ipate becomes Mike Holcombe's next PhD student.  His work formalises the divide-and-conquer strategy of designing a system as nested Stream X-Machines that leads eventually to the guarantee of correct integration.
1993 Mike Holcombe and Mike Stannett have a DTI/SERC grant looking at high level functional testing of VLSI, jointly with a group in Hull.  When the project finished this year, it was given an alpha rating.
1994 Tony Simons gives world-leading tutorials at ECOOP and OOPSLA on object-oriented type theory.  This work is later serialised in the Journal of Object Technology and is adopted by other universities as an introduction to the area.
1994 Peter Croll and Mike Holcombe elevate the second-year "Software Hut" project from a theoretical exercise into real software engineering practice.  Teams of students compete to deliver software solutions for external clients.  This was the first such competitive project of its kind.  Students put all their learned theory into practice, and win prize money for the best solution to a client's needs.
CSRG - Correct Systems Research Group (1995-97)
1995 Colin Smythe takes over as Head of Department.  He and Mike Holcombe merge their research interests and the group is renamed CSRG (Correct Systems Research Group).
1995 In July, Florentin Ipate submits his thesis "The theory of X-Machines with applications in specification and testing".  In December, Tony Simons submits his thesis "A language with class: the theory of classification exemplified in an object-oriented programming language."  Both were nominated for the Distinguished Dissertation award.
1996 Andy Stratton is employed on a FDTL grant to develop the Software Hut (through modularisation) and eventually contributes to the creation of the Genesys project for 4th-year MEng students on the Software Engineering programme.
1996 Judith Barnard publishes her PhD thesis on Communicating X-Machines (Staffordshire University).  This theme is later taken up by Marian Gheorghe (Pitesti) and Petros Kefalas (Thessaloniki).
1997 The group teaches a surprising number of theory topics on the undergraduate syllabus:  machines, languages, propositional and predicate logic, algebra, CCS, CSP, Petri nets, Mazurkiewicz traces, Z and modal mu-calculus.
1997 Florentin Ipate publishes his influential paper formalising Stream X-Machines: "An integration testing method that is proved to find all faults", Int. J. Comp. Math., 63, 159-178.
VT - Verification and Testing (1997 - current)
1997 The old CSRG becomes too large to manage as a single coherent group; Mike Holcombe and Colin Smythe agree to split into Verification and Testing and Networking Systems.
1997 New SARTOR regulations come into force requiring longer 4-year MEng degrees for BCS accreditation.  Mike Holcombe and Andy Stratton create the idea of a 4th-year project for the Software Engineering degree, called "Setting up your own IT Company".  This becomes the legendary Genesys Solutions student-run software house.
1998 Tony Simons is part of the OPEN consortium, led by Brian Henderson-Sellers (Sydney University of Technology) competing against Rational Inc. for the new UML standard.  America votes for itself.  OPEN publishes three much better books on object-oriented engineering, including Tony's "The OPEN Toolbox of Techniques" with Addison-Wesley.
1998 Mike Holcombe and Florentin Ipate publish "Correct Systems - Building a Business Process Solution" with Springer, to make the Stream X-Machine method more accessible.  A Software Hut project developed for a local Philatelist (stamp-dealer) following this method later reports zero faults during the first years of operation.
1998 Tony Cowling publishes "The first decade of an undergraduate degree programme in software engineering," Annals of Soft. Eng., 6, 61-90.  This is influential on the development of the American software engineering curriculum.
1999 Tony Simons publishes "Use cases considered harmful" to follow "30 things that go wrong with UML", highly cited critiques of the early UML semantics.  If used as control logic, use cases have both goto and come-from statements!
2000 Kirill Bogdanov starts on the EPSRC MOTIVE project to adapt Stream X-Machines for testing object-oriented software.  He publishes his thesis on Stream X-Machine based testing of automotive software developed using Harel Statecharts.  This work is used by Daimler-Chrysler in Berlin.  Later, Barry Norton adapts the approach for StateFlow Statecharts.
2000 Marian Gheorghe, Tony Cowling and others formalise Judith Barnard's Communicating X-Machines idea as Communicating Stream X-Machines, and leverage the power of Florentin Ipate's proof of correct integration.  Marian Gheorghe moves to Sheffield from the University of Pitesti in Romania.
2003 Genesys Solutions is awarded an IBM Eclipse (software) innovation grant to develop Eclipse plug-ins.  Mike Holcombe asks the question of the agile method XP: "Where do the tests come from?"
2004 Francisco Macias publishes his PhD: "Empirical Assessment of Extreme Programming".  Sharifah Syed-Abdullah publishes a second PhD evaluating XP the following year.  These explode some of the myths of XP, as well as supporting the strengths of the agile method.
2005 Mike Holcombe wins a prestigious EPSRC grant worth £500K for the Software Observatory project in empirical software engineering. Stephen Wood (Work Psychology) is involved, RAs George Michaelides, John Karn and Chris Thomson are appointed as RAs.
2005 Genesys Solutions is awarded a second IBM Eclipse (software) innovation grant.  Tony Simons exposes the myth of XP's correctness-preserving regression tests, using a formal model of state refinement.  Sheffield hosts XP 2005.
2006 John Karn publishes his PhD: "Empirical software engineering: developing behaviour and preferences".  This convincingly links software team behaviour with Meyers-Briggs personality type profiles.
2006 Phil McMinn joins the department as lecturer in Enterprise Computing, works in the Software Observatory and mentors on the Genesys Solutions company project.  Later, he introduces the IT Management for Business degree.
2007 Genesys Solutions spins-out a daughter company, epiGenesys.  This eventually recruits 10 graduates from the student-run company and appoints Chris Murray as Managing Director in 2009.

Last updated 30/09/2015