Motivation and Programming

April 29, 2009

We know that motivation is the single most important factor in the acquisition of expertise. It is surprising, then, how little is known about the motivation of programmers and programming students.

Some sociologists and economists have looked into it, curious about motivations of open-source developers (e.g. a survey of Linux kernel developers). Educators have an obvious interest (e.g. A survey of student motivation at two schools in the UK). There’s also some research by corporations and governments, some research into the use of games for motivation, and an investigation or two of cultural differences.

To me this looks like a ripe area for further research. Someone needs to study student motivations in way that controls for response bias. We could go looking for gender or cultural differences. We could compare students in different schools.

We could compare professionals of different kinds. Big company vs. small company. Maintainer vs. commando. Tester vs. front-end engineer.

We could do an experiment on the students of the summer programming course. We could compare the use of toy assignment problems to beautiful elegant mathematical problems to seemingly-applied business and science problems.

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One Response to “Motivation and Programming”


  1. […] Motivation and Programming. It wouldn’t meet some of my goals discussed below. [Blog post] […]


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