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February 28, 2002 Setting standards in telecommunications software



Professor Rachida Dssouli

Professor Rachida Dssouli

by Janice Hamilton

When Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Rachida Dssouli came to Concordia last June from the Université de Montréal, she didn’t come alone. Three PhD students and a master’s student made the move with her, and five more graduate students plan to come in the near future.

Dssouli modestly suggests that the attraction may not lie in her teaching abilities and quiet charm. “Students are attracted by the research domain,” she said in an interview.

The subject matter of her research is conformance testing, or testing of software systems in order to improve quality. “Our focus is automation: how to derive tests automatically, how to apply tests to the end product, and how to analyze test results and declare that the end product is conforming to its standard.”

She is involved in industrial research projects with France Telecom and Bell Universities Laboratory. Both contracts are currently up for renewal, and she hopes to hear good news about them soon. The France Telecom project focuses on protocol design and validation, while the Bell project looks at e-commerce applications and performance testing.

If the Bell contract is approved, it will be worth $142,000 a year, plus matching funds from NSERC for two more years. Dssouli will coordinate the Bell project, while associate professor Ferhat Khendek will be in charge of the France Telecom project. It brings a $100,000 grant per year for pure research, but Dssouli says its main significance is that the Concordia team is seen as a key partner in research and development by France Telecom.

Bridging research and practice

Dssouli likes working with industry, and says one of Concordia’s great strengths is its ability to bridge the gap between research theory and practical applications.

“We need people who can do research from a theoretical point of view and apply this research to practical problems that face industry every day,” she said. “If we understand the problems, we can bring them to the theoretical field and try to find solutions,” rather than just patching them up.

She is also an experienced conference organizer and hopes to raise Concordia’s visibility by holding workshops and conferences. She and Khendek organized a conference in September. The Concordia Prestigious Workshop on Communication Software Engineering brought together well-known academic and industry researchers from Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Communication software combines telecommunication networks and software engineering, both fields at the heart of information technology and the Internet.

The pair are currently editing a special issue of the journal Information and Technology Software that will describe the university and feature about 10 reviewed papers from the conference.

Asked about her background, Dssouli said, “I grew up in Morocco, on the Mediterranean Sea, and I did my studies in France.” In 1981 she received a Doctorat d’Université from Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, where her group was the second in the world (after the Japanese) to build a computer network connected by fiber optic cables.

She and her husband then came to Canada, and she got a PhD in computer science from the Université de Montreal in 1987, studying protocol networks with Dr. Gregor von Bochmann. Over the years she has taught in Morocco and at the Université de Sherbrooke, and she spent a sabbatical year with Nortel.

Recently she realized it was time for a change and decided to move to Concordia where she will have new opportunities to collaborate and build a new research group. “People working in electrical engineering and computing should work together to face challenges in telecommunication,” she said.