How Social and Communication Channels Shape and Challenge a Participatory Culture in Software Development

Author(s): Margaret-Anne Storey, Alexey Zagalsky, Fernando Figueira Filho, Leif Singer, Daniel M. German
Venue: IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering
Date: 2016

Type of Experiement: Survey/Multi-Case Study
Sample Size: 1449
Class/Experience Level: Other
Participant Selection: Public Github Users
Data Collection Method: Survey


This paper studies the rise of "the social programmer", defined and set apart from previous programmers as someone who participates in a huge, collaborative project with many other developers. The researchers survey Github users on their methods of communication, how they learn through said channels of communication, and what challenges they face.

The researchers conducted two sets of surveys, one during late 2013 with a larger group of participants, and the other a year late in late 2014 with a smaller set of participants. The survey included questions regarding demographics, communications channels, and mostly importantly, development activities that the participant has performed such as: stay up to date about practices, technologies, etc., find answers to questions, and display my skills / accomplishments. Participants could rank ways of communication that helped them performed said activity and explain why that method of communication was important.

Overall, the study feels very complete, with not only rankings on the most highly valued types of communication between developers, but also why each method of communication is important and helpful. The researchers include other detailed statistics on their participants such as language frequency, geographical location, gender, etc, and take these factors into account when making their analyses. Furthermore they also take a look into challenges that accompany these standard methods of communication, such as distractions, privacy, and collaboration hurdles, and how current tools such as Github and Stack Overflow may not be entirely adequate.