Notes on “Asking and Answering Questions during a Programming Change Task”

October 12, 2008

Asking and Answering Questions during a Programming Change Task: Jonathan Sillito, Gail C. Murphy.

The Gist: When programmers change a program, they ask 44 types of questions which fit into four categories. The four categories are:

  • “Finding focus points.” Questions about finding code.
  • “Expanding focus points.” Questions to understand a piece of code at a low level and its relationships to other parts of the system.
  • “Understanding a subgraph.” Questions to understand a piece of code at a high level.
  • “Questions over groups of subgraphs.” Questions to understand the relationship between disparate pieces of code at a high level.
The authors also mapped existing tools to the questions. 
Opinion: The general approach is good. I like the idea of determining what questions programmers ask and constructing or finding tools to help answer them. That said, I’m not convinced that the specific research here covers the space of questions programmers ask.
I liked the extensive list of programmer questions. It prompts thinking about solutions and I had a few developer-tool ideas thanks to this paper.
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