This past Thursday I spent some time at IBM Almaden research center to attend the NPUC conference, which focused on the future of software development. In computing, software development is one of the most energy intensive collaborations, and often requiring significant coordination. There are elements of competition thrown-in for good measure, and of course, everyone is working in the same workspace, which is often coordinated by version control software. Sounds quite like Wikipedia, doesn’t it?
One of the interesting talks given at NPUC was Gina Venolia‘s talk on using visualizations to represent the structure of the code. This representation can be used individually to make sense of the system, as well as being used by a team to explain structure to others. As a map to the system, they help anchor conversations between developers by providing for an intermediate representation of the knowledge structure that they must share for effective coordination.
This is a fascinating area to think about how augmented social cognition ideas could provide for better tools for collaborative software development. For example:
* Each developer could get an color on the map. Overlaps between two developer can then be easily visualized to see areas where they need to coordinate in the past and in the future.
* Building up an understanding from the code of who is working with whom, annotations and comments made by one developer could be send over to another developer’s map when code is checked into the system.
* Social analytic can be used to discover where developers are clashing with each other (like how we have discovered conflicts in Wikipedia).
Microsoft Research indeed has been thinking about awareness tools toward this direction. A project named FASTDash works to increase awareness between developers in software teams. Lots of exciting possibilities!