Abstraction and Modelling: A Complementary Partnership

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Why is it that some software engineers are able to produce clear, elegant designs and programs, while others cannot? Is it purely a matter of intelligence? What is the problem? One hypothesis is that the answer lies in abstraction: the ability to exhibit abstraction skills and perform abstract thinking and reasoning. Abstraction is a cognitive means by which engineers, mathematicians and others deal with complexity. It covers both aspects of removing detail as well as the identification of generalisations or common features, and has been identified as a crucial skill for software engineering professionals. Is it possible to improve the skills and abilities of those less able through further education and training? Are there any means by which we can measure the abstraction skills of an individual?

In this talk, we explore these questions, and argue that abstraction and modelling are complementary partners: that abstraction is the key skill for modelling and that modelling provides a sound means for practising and improving abstraction skills.