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Learning from Project History: A Case Study for Software Development

Davor Cubranic, Gail C. Murphy Janice Singer Kellogg S. Booth

Proceedings of ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, November 2004, to appear.



The lack of lightweight communication channels and other technical and sociological difficulties make it hard for new members of a non-collocated software development team to learn effectively from their more experienced colleagues while they are coming up-to-speed on a project. To address this situation, we have developed a tool, named Hipikat, that provides developers with efficient and effective access to the group memory for a software development project that is implicitly formed by all of the artifacts produced during the development. This project memory is built automatically with little or no change to existing work practices. We report an exploratory case study evaluating whether software developers who are new to a project can benefit from the artifacts that Hipikat recommends from the project memory. To assess the appropriateness of the recommendations, we investigated when and how developers queried the project memory, how they evaluated the recommended artifacts, and the process by which they utilized the artifacts. We found that newcomers did use the recommendations and their final solutions exploited the recommended artifacts, although most of the Hipikat queries came in the early stages of a change task. We describe the case study, present qualitative observations, and suggest implications of using project memory as a learning aid for project newcomers.

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