Nantes, France, has a great environment for MDE purpose: great schools, great labs, great companies and now the FIRST post-graduate specialization Diploma in Model Driven Engineering! Here is an interview with the head of the dipolma: Jordi Cabot.

Xavier Seignard (XS) – Hello Jordi Cabot. Maybe you can start by introducing yourself and your position in the MDE diploma?

Hello Xavier and thanks for giving me the chance to talk about the MDE Diploma ( A few words about myself: I´m the leader of the AtlanMod team ( an INRIA research group located at the École des Mines de Nantes. AtlanMod is one of the leading MDE research teams in the world and has created some of the most popular MDE technologies like the ATL model transformation  language. I’m also the creator of the Modeling Languages portal ( where I write about all kinds of software modeling and model-driven engineering topics.

XS –  Could you explain us the birth of this diploma, who took the initiative?
Jean Bézivin took the initiative of creating the diploma when he realized that there were many companies interested in starting new projects using MDE techniques but that the engineers with the “human skills” necessary to lead those MDE projects were not widely available (no specialized formation on these topics existed anywhere in the world!).

From there, he started, together with Frédéric Jouault and Serge Masserot, designing a formation that included not only technical MDE subjects but also case studies and MDE project management aspects to make sure students had a complete picture of the benefits but also complexities of MDE . The idea has always been to “create” MDE experts that can advice the companies about when and where use MDE techniques in their software engineering activities, not only technical experts that can implement these solutions (designing metamodels, model transformations,…) for them.

The students :

XS – How many people are following the diploma this first year?

We have six students.

XS – What is the profile of the students? What is the proportion working for a software editor, for a consulting company, big companies, institutional administrations?

There´s a little bit of everything, from a student working in a tool development company to a student that works in the informatics department of a big company and even one student that will be the key designer/developer of a new model-driven product for a start-up company.

XS – What is the background of the students? System engineering, embedded systems, information systems, …?

Most of them have a computer science background with a focus on the information systems area but the diploma covers the use of MDE on all the above mentioned areas.

XS – How international are the students?

All students live in France (not all of them are French though) and moved to Nantes to follow the diploma (only one of the students is originally from Nantes). During these months they have stayed in the student residence of the École des Mines.

XS – Last year, I met Gisela Bonnaud, Pedagogical Engineering Coordiantor of the diploma, she told me that some companies were willing to recruit people so they can follow the diploma. What was the motivation of the students to follow this diploma? They were sent by their companies? Is it a personal interest?

In the end for this edition we had 50/50. Three of the students were sent direclty by their companies and three other came on their own and managed to found a company to do the internship during this first semester of courses.

But in fact, we have indeed detected a growing interest of companies willing to hire MDE students so we are working in that direction for the new edition.The idea would be to bring companies to “sponsor” MDE students in exchange of getting the student working for them as interns and, possibly, as employees at the end of the diploma. We believe this is a very “low-risk / high-reward” way to hire an MDE expert for your company and with the option of “testing” that employee during the internship to make sure he/she integrates well with the company.

XS – The formation is quite expensive, how it is financed?

For the students already employed by a company, the company takes care of the cost of the diploma. The rest has benefitted from (partial) grants to help them cover the fees. However, I think all of them are happy with the “investment” they made since thanks to the diploma they have found a company in which they will probably continue working on MDE topics even after the internship finishes.

XS – The first semester (academic coursework) is finished, what is the feedback of the students?

They are very happy with the contents of the diploma and with what they have learnt so far but I´m afraid we have a been a bit too demanding. They have complained that the pace of the courses has been too high: on average they have had four full days of courses (24h) and one day of personal work per week to complete the MDE exercises and mini-projects given by the lecturers. A second complaint was regarding the difficulty of relating all the different concepts seen during the course, specially because the ordering of the courses did not always followed an exact sequence (maybe they were practicing one day a model transformation language and the next day seeing the application of MDE in the embedded systems domain) due to the constraints of our guest lecturers. We will work on these two aspects for the next edition of the diploma.

XS –  The internships are about to start, any buzzwords, privileged application fields?

We are very excited about the internship topics. I believe that we cover most of the main areas of MDE. Topics include new model-driven reverse engineering techniques to migrate legacy systems, code-generation tools, model-driven tool interoperability aspects to improve the business-IT alignment and putting in place a new model-driven development method in a company, defining the UML profiles /DSLs required in the company’s specific domain.

The diploma :

XS – How did you elaborate the program? With the help of partners such as companies and labs?

The program reflects our own vision of the MDE field and the aspects we believe are important  (including all the non-techincal ones) to become an MDE expert. After we sketched the first program version we went back to the community for feedback. We reached many of our colleagues and also presented the diploma in several events like the Educators’ Symposium in the MoDELS’09 conference.

XS – How international are the lecturers?

I think we can say we managed to have most of the the big names in software modeling in Europe teaching in the diploma!. And as a complement, the students were invited to attend the Jeudi des Modeles ( cycle of conferences where we have recently hosted notables like Ivar Jacobson or Ed Merks and we even had a “field-trip” and brought all the students to a modeling conference (ECMFA’10 in Paris) so that they could know about the latest developments in the area. All in all, I believe we can say that the quality of the lecturers has been oustanding and we are very grateful to all of them for accepting our invitation and for taking the time to prepare high-quality lectures for our students.

XS – What is the proportion of academic/industrial lecturers?

I´d say it was 50/50. We have tried to balance both perspectives. It is good that students know about the cutting-edge technologies that leading research groups are developing but at the same time they need to be familiar with the best practices and commercial tools currently in use in software companies.

XS – MDE is evolving a lot recently, how do you deal with that to stay at the cutting edge of these technologies in the program?

This is tough. Again, we need to find an equilibrium between the new hot topics and the core technologies. We decided to devote the first part of the courses to core MDE technologies that we wanted the students to master (metamodeling, model transofrmations,..) and then we organized the rest of the courses as one-day sessions on one specific aspect that could be either the application of MDE in a particular domain (e.g. web engineering, real-time systems,…) or an introduction to an advanced MDE topic (like MPS-Meta Programming System) that is getting some momentum but that right now it is difficult to guess if it will become more mainstream or not. In each edition, we will review all these advanced topics to see if any of them deserves to be moved to the “core” part and get more attention.

XS – What is the feedback of the lecturers?

The feedback has been very positive. All of them manifested that they were very impressed about the quality and, specially, the interest and participation of the students. No surprise here, the participation depended a lot on the topic of the day. More junior students were more interested  in the most technical subjects, instead the more senior ones were more participative during the discussion on  social and project management aspects of MDE projects since they have already experimented this kind of difficulties.

The MDE diploma team:

XS – It is always tricky to start a new diploma, what are the lessons learned with this first semester?

As I was saying before, I think we have tried to squeeze to much content in the diploma. We love all these topics so it was very difficult to us to discard some of them during the planning. Also, I think we understimated the complexity of the logistics required to bring all these external experts to teach in the diploma. This was almost a full-time job for a couple of months. We were lucky to have a person working as a pedagogic assistant for the diploma that could take care of this but I think this is one aspect that should be taken into account when trying to open an international diploma like this one. One last lesson learnt is about the need to oganized a weekly session with the students to help them relate the things they have learnt that week with past and future lectures. Seeing so many topics (taught by so many different teachers) is a very rich experience but comes with the danger of leaving them a little bit confused at times. It´s important to make sure they understand the relationships between all MDE concepts and I think that a weekly session to have an open discussion with the students to put things in perspective could be a good solution for this.

XS – Because we know MDE is often scary for companies, is this diploma can be an argument for the adoption of such technologies?

This is exactly one of the goals of the diploma. The diploma offers two main benefits to companies. First it provides them with a MDE expert that can advice the company about the best way to benefit from MDE (the goal of the MDE expert is not to change completely how the company does things but to identify the areas in which MDE can make a difference). Second, thanks to the internship program, companies can conduct a pilot project to test MDE and get convinced about the competitive advantage this may represent to them. We hope every edition more and more companies realize about this!

XS – With the help of the graduate school of engineering “Ecole des Mines de Nantes” and the research team “Atlanmod”, the MDE diploma seems to benefit of a great environment, what’s your feeling about that?

This is absolutely true!. I´m very happy to be leading the AtlanMod team. Jean Bézivin did a great job in creating a leading MDE research team in Nantes, supported by the École des Mines de Nantes and by INRIA. In fact, he didn´t just created a team but helped developing a complete modeling ecosystem in the Pays de la Loire region. Having great modeling companies around (like our close partners OBEO and MIA-Software) offers greats opportunities to all students and researchers interested in MDE.  Nantes may not be in the middle of the Silicon Valley but for sure we are in the center of the “Modeling Valley”.

XS – What are your plans for the next year of the diploma?

We are already preparing the next edition of the MDE diploma. It´s going to start in September 2011. Those interested in taking part in it can already contact me at .

XS – Thanks Jordi, I wish you a lot of success to you and the MDE diploma team. To end this interview, do you have an anecdote to share?

Well, let´s say that I´ve discovered the usefulness of the images tab of google search. Since I didn´t know personally all the lecturers, more than once I had to quickly search google to find a picture of the lecturer of the day to see if the person wandering around the department not knowing where to go was indeed him/her (all lecturers were supposed to stop at the reception desk and ask for me but many arrived early and tried to find the classroom by themselves and believe me this is not easy in our École).

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