ICSE 2010 highlights

Now that the papers from ICSE 2010 are available in the ACM digital library (Volume 1, Volume 2, workshops), it’s time for a blog post about my personal highlights from ICSE 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa, in May 2010. This is of course very subjective, and it follows the tradition that Jorge Aranda started last year.


For me, ICSE 2010 started off with SUITE, the 2nd International Workshop on Search-Driven Development organized by Sushil Bajracharya, Adrian Kuhn, Joel Ossher and Yunwen Ye.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the very discussion-focused format of SUITE worked. The paper presentations were short (5 minutes) and they were all done in the morning. That left quite a bit of time for discussion in the morning, and even more time for discussion in the afternoon. These discussions didn’t seem overly regulated, and it was great to see how topics emerged.

Topics of the workshop ranged from API search and immediate search in the IDE to dynamic filtering and Semantic Web. As discussion topics for the afternoon we selected IDE integration, developer needs, and the creation of a reference collection for SUITE researchers. It was great to see that developer needs turned out to be the most popular topic — a first sign that the ICSE community is focusing on human aspects more and more.


FlexiTools, the workshop on Flexible Modeling Tools, organized by Harold Ossher, André van der Hoek, Margaret-Anne Storey, John Grundy and Rachel Bellamy covers a really interesting area. The workshop addresses the problem that formal modeling tools (such as UML diagram editors) and more informal but flexible, free-form approaches (such as white boards or office tools) have complementary strengths and weaknesses. The goal of this workshop is to develop flexible modeling tools that have the advantages of both approaches.

The workshop was structured into 3 paper sessions and a concluding discussion session. The day started with requirements for flexible modeling tools, focusing on support for creative work, support for incremental work and changing conditions, support for alternatives, and support for capturing the evolution of models. In the following session on “Unstructured to Structured”, we discussed how unstructured informal models could incrementally be transformed into structured formal models. Several tools such as BITKit were demoed in the afternoon session on Tool Infrastructure.


Due to several double-bookings, I wasn’t able to attend all of the working conference on Mining Software Repositories, but I did manage to present our MSR challenge paper on bug lifetimes in FreeBSD.

My personal highlight of MSR was Michele Lanza‘s keynote “The Visual Terminator”. His brilliant slides are online on slideshare.net. The keynote was about software visualization, a term he defined as “The use of computer graphics to understand software”. After telling the stories behind tools such as CodeCrawler and CodeCity, he argued that it is time to rethink software, that software is more than text, and that visualization is the key. While I didn’t agree to all the points he made — I don’t think “empirical validation of visualizations is suicide” — the keynote had everything that a good keynote should have: an outsider’s perspective (visualization is not the core topic of MSR), a great speaker, and some provocative insights. My favorite quote: “Academic research is like Formula 1: driving around in circles, wasting gasoline … but it generates spin-off values!”


Our workshop on Web 2.0 for Software Engineering went really well. Two presentations by Sue Black outlining the results of surveys on the use of social media and Web 2.0 in software development set the stage for the rest of the workshop and also provided insights into her own use of social media, in particular twitter. The following two sessions were more tool focused — from tagging and commit messages to Codebook, mashups and wikis. Three topics were chosen by the participants for the concluding panel discussion: Information overflow, Privacy and Ethics, and the potential move of the IDE to the browser. The detailed notes from the discussion are available here.

To address information overflow, several solutions such as generating less information, generating summaries, voting, context-sensitive labeling, automated categorization, interaction mining and interruption management were discussed.

The discussion regarding privacy and ethics started with the example of the use of twitter at conferences, in particular the question whether it is ethical to quote other individuals such as keynote speakers in conference related tweets. We moved on to discuss our ethical obligations — both moral and legal — before reading communication channels from Open Source projects. A general problem identified in this discussion is that we do not have good metaphors for privacy in social media. The metaphors of filing cabinets and public art projects were suggested.

Looking at projects such as Mozilla Bespin and Heroku, there seems to be the trend of moving the IDE into the browser. First of all, it needs to be noted that neither the use of Web 2.0 mechanisms nor the storage of data “in the cloud” implies that the IDE has to be in the browser. Nonetheless, despite challenges such as concurrency, editor speed and naming schemes, there are reasons why the IDE could move to the browser: accessibility, collaboration, data integration, the same configuration for everybody and superficial reasons such as “the browser is the future”. To conclude the discussion, we had a vote among the workshop participants asking if IDEs should move to the browser. 10 votes yes, 4.5 voted no, and there was 1 maybe.

In the spirit of the workshop topic, we used Web 2.0 tools throughout the workshop to take notes collaboratively. While our Google Waves suffered from low bandwidth, twitter with the #web2se hashtag was quite active.

Doctoral Symposium

Due to the overlap with Web2SE, I wasn’t able to attend the doctoral symposium, and only went there to present my paper on emergent knowledge structures.

Main Conference

The main conference started off with a video welcome address by Desmond Tutu, and an excellent keynote by Clem Sunter. Without notes or slides, he gave a highly entertaining lecture on scenario planning with regard to South Africa and the world. He used the metaphors of foxes and hedgehogs to demonstrate different approaches to dealing with business decisions. According to Clem, foxes embrace uncertainty and change their mind when they realize that there’s something better out there. They reach the optimal decisions through their knowledge of the system as a whole. Hedgehogs on the other hand simplify life around one idea, more or less disregarding everything else. Clem did a great job relating these ideas to current events and leaders. His website mindofafox.com has more details.

The presentations of our paper on Awareness 2.0 and our NIER paper on tags went well. The highlights from other paper presentations included Andy Begel‘s presentation on Codebook. The room was very crowded when he talked about the survey they did at Microsoft which revealed that engineers need better ways to find connections between each other. The Codebook framework addresses this issue. In his talk about Supporting Developers with Natural Language Queries, Michael Würsch presented a framework that is able to process guided-input natural language queries that resemble plain English. The approach is based on an OWL ontology and the Semantic Web. The next paper in the same session addressed a similar problem, focusing on questions that require the integration of different kinds of project information. Thomas Fritz and Gail Murphy started by identifying 78 questions that developers want to ask but for which support is missing. They introduced an information fragment model along with a prototype implementation that was evaluated with positive results. Rachel Bellamy did a great presentation on the paper Moving into a New Software Project Landscape. They conducted a grounded theory study with 18 newcomers across 18 projects and found a wide range of interesting things such as the three primary factors that impact the integration of newcomers: early experimentation, internalizing structures and cultures, and progress validation. Thomas Fritz‘ presentation in their distinguished paper A Degree-of-Knowledge Model to Capture Source Code Familiarity started off with a cartoon clip that did a great job at outlining the idea of the paper: If several people collaborative on writing a paper, the degree of knowledge in the paper of one individual author will increase when this author edits to paper, and it will decrease as soon as another author edits the paper. Transferring that idea to source code, they showed that the degree-of-knowledge model can provide better results than existing approaches.

Cape Town and surroundings

Cape Town turned out to be a great place for a conference: Spectacular scenery, amazing food and wildlife not far away. I posted my best pictures here (public facebook album).

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