WorkItemExplorer: Visualizing Software Development Tasks Using an Interactive Exploration Environment

April 3, 2012 2 comments

In recent years, the focus of tool support for software developers has shifted from source code alone towards tools that incorporate the entire software development process. On top of source code editing and compilation, many development platforms, such as IBM’s Jazz or Microsoft’s Visual Studio, now offer explicit support for the management of development tasks.

These tasks have become important cogs in collaborative software development processes, and in a typical software project, developers as well as managers need to maintain an awareness of an abundance of tasks along with their properties and relationships. Current tools that aim at providing an understanding of the state of a task management system (e.g., developer dashboards) have several shortcomings, such as limited interactivity and insufficient visualizations. To better support developers and managers in their understanding of all aspects of their software development tasks, Patrick, Lars, Peggy, and I have developed WorkItemExplorer, an interactive visualization environment for the dynamic exploration of data gathered from a task management system. Read more…

Programming in a Socially Networked World: the Evolution of the Social Programmer

January 5, 2012 3 comments

Since I first blogged about Stack Overflow in February 2011, the number of questions on the Q&A portal has more than doubled (from 1 million to almost 2.5 million), as has the number of answers (from 2.5 million to 5.2 million). According to a recent study by Lena Mamykina and colleagues, over 92% of the questions on Stack Overflow are answered — in a median time of a staggering 11 minutes.

The virtually real-time access to a community of other programmers willing and eager to help is an almost irresistible resource, as shown by the 12 million visitors and 131 million page views in December 2011 alone. Also, as we found in a recent study  for Web2SE 2011, Stack Overflow can reach high levels of coverage for a given topic. For example, we analyzed the Google search results for one particular API –- jQuery -– and found at least one Stack Overflow question on the first page of the search results for 84% of the API’s methods.

The access to such a vast repository of knowledge that is just a web search away raises several research questions:

  • Will developers who focus on reusing content from the web have sufficient understanding of the inner workings of the software they produce?
  • Are web resources going to cover all important aspects of a topic?
  • What meta-data is needed to facilitate technical information-seeking?
  • How can we address security and copyright concerns that come with using other developers’ code?

In a recent position paper, Fernando, Brendan, Peggy and I discuss the past, present, and future of software developers that have access to an unprecedented amount and diversity of resources on the web. The paper is available as a pre-print, and will be presented at the Future of Collaborative Software Development workshop co-located with CSCW 2012 in Seattle in February. Read more…

On using grounded theory in software engineering research

September 21, 2011 6 comments

In this blog post, I reflect on my experiences from conducting a grounded theory study as a software engineering researcher in summer 2010. In the study, Peggy and I examined the role of a community portal, such as IBM’s Jazz or Microsoft’s MSDN, in the process of communicating software development knowledge. We just presented the results of the study at ESEC/FSE in September 2011 (paper pre-print). This is far from the first blog post on experiences using grounded theory. To read about other researchers’ experiences, you might want to take a look at L. Lennie Irvin’s collection of blog posts on grounded theory or the 2008 CASCON paper by Steve Adolph from UBC. Read more…

An Exploratory Study of Software Reverse Engineering in a Security Context

August 29, 2011 Comments off

Software reverse engineering—the process of analysing a system to identify its components and to create representations of the system in other forms or at higher levels of abstraction—is a challenging task. It becomes even more challenging in security contexts such as the detection of malware or the decryption of encrypted file systems. In such settings, web resources are often unavailable because work has to be performed offline, files can rarely be shared in order to avoid infecting co-workers with malware or because information is classified, time pressure is immense, and tool support is limited.

To gain insights into the work done by security reverse engineers, Peggy, Fernando Figueira Filho, Martin Salois from DRDC Valcartier and I conducted an exploratory study aimed at understanding their processes, tools, artifacts, challenges, and needs. The results of this study will be presented at WCRE 2011 in Limerick, Ireland, in October. Read more…

Effective Communication of Software Development Knowledge Through Community Portals

June 10, 2011 2 comments

Effective management and exchange of knowledge is key in every software organization. Although various forms of documentation exist, software projects encounter many knowledge management challenges: How should knowledge be distributed? How should knowledge be kept up to date? How should feedback be solicited? How should knowledge be organized for easy access?

There is no roadmap for what kind of information is best presented in a given artifact and new forms of documentation, such as wikis and blogs, have evolved. Unlike more formal mechanisms, wikis and blogs are easy to create and maintain. However, wikis and blogs do not offer the same authoritativeness that comes with traditional documentation, and they can become outdated and less concise over time. While the informality of a wiki page or blog is sometimes enough, users often expect reviewed technical articles.

One mechanism that brings various communication channels together is the use of web or community portals. Web portals are not just used in software communities, but are essential to companies, such as, eBay or TripAdvisor, where they enable the development of communities around products. Similarly, many of today’s software projects wish to solicit feedback and input from a broader community of users, beta-testers, and stakeholders. Examples of community portals in software organizations include Microsoft’s MSDN or IBM’s Jazz.

In a paper that Peggy and I will present at ESEC/FSE 2011 in Szeged, Hungary, we report on an empirical study of the community portal for IBM’s Jazz: Using grounded theory, we developed a model that characterizes documentation artifacts in a community portal along the following eight dimensions:

  • Content: the type of content typically presented in the artifact.
  • Audience: the audience for which the artifact is intended.
  • Trigger: the motivation that triggers the creation of a new artifact.
  • Collaboration: the extent of collaboration during the creation of a new artifact.
  • Review: the extent to which new artifacts are reviewed before publication.
  • Feedback: the extent to which readers can give feedback.
  • Fanfare: the amount of fanfare with which a new artifact is released.
  • Time Sensitivity: the time sensitivity of information in the artifact.

In our study, we focused on four kinds of artifacts: the official product documentation accessible through the web and the product help menus, technical articles available in the library, the Jazz team blog, and the team wiki. Read more…

What we know about Web 2.0 in Software Engineering — Part 2: Tags, feeds, and social networks

May 19, 2011 Comments off

After focusing on wikis, blogs and microblogs in the last post, in this entry I’ll summarize the results of my (non-systematic) literature review on what we know about the use of tags, feeds, and social networks by software developers. Read more…

What we know about Web 2.0 in Software Engineering — Part 1: Wikis, blogs, and microblogs

May 17, 2011 3 comments

Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, blogs, tags and feeds have been adopted and adapted by software engineers. A week before our second workshop on Web 2.0 for Software Engineering (Web2SE), I’ve conducted a (non-systematic) literature review to find out what we already know about the use of Web 2.0 by software developers. In this first of two blog posts, I’ll focus on wikis, blogs and micro-blogs. Read more…


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