Latent Patterns in Activities: A Field Study of How Developers Manage Context

Souti Chattopadhyay, Nicholas Nelson, Yenifer Ramirez Gonzalez, Annel Amelia Leon, Rahul Pandita, and Anita Sarma

In order to build efficient tools that support complex programming tasks, it is imperative that we understand how developers program. We know that developers create a context around their programming task by gathering some relevant information needed. We also know that developers decompose their tasks recursively into smaller units. However, important gaps exist in our knowledge about: (1) the role that context plays in supporting smaller units of tasks, (2) the relationship that might exist among these smaller units, and (3) how context flows across them.

The goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of how developers structure their tasks and manage context through a field study of ten professional developers in an industrial setting. Our analysis reveals that developers decompose their tasks into smaller units with distinct goals, that specific patterns exist in how they sequence these smaller units, and that developers may maintain context between those smaller units with related goals.

file_icon Validation Survey: Anonymized version of validation survey provided to study participants.

file_icon Code Scheme: Scheme for analyzing actions, episodes, and subgoals of developers within the study.

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