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'Soft' Software Engineering: Challenges & Some Hopes for the Future

'Soft' Software Engineering: Challenges & Some Hopes for the Future

Invited talk presented at the SEmotion ICSE workshop, May 28th, 2019, Montreal, Canada.

Abstract: Within the general trend of considering more and more human and "softer" aspects in Software Engineering, there has recently been a strong push for studying the emotions of developers and engineers. In this talk, we look at some challenges when doing interdisciplinary research involving psychology, behavioural aspects, and affect/emotion of software engineers. Based on our experience from studies in behavioural software engineering, we also highlight some hopes for the future of "soft" software engineering.

Robert Feldt

May 28, 2019
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  1. “Soft” Software Engineering:
    Challenges & Some Hopes for the Future
    SEmotion 2019

    Robert Feldt

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  2. Challenge 1: Primacy of Tech
    Number of ‘soft’ SE papers on the rise

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  3. Challenge 1: Primacy of Tech
    Num‘soft’ SE papers on the rise (even w. normalised)

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  4. “Being more technical and mathematical is 'better'
    than focusing on 'soft' & human aspects”
    CHASE has been one of largest ICSE workshops

    for several years
    But someone must dare to say it:
    More tech/math/CS => more prestige,

    higher rate of acceptance,

    more paper awards, etc
    Challenge 1: Primacy of Tech

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  5. Challenge 1: Primacy of Tech
    Hard
    SE
    Soft
    SE
    “Key differentiator is Technology. Humans just in the way.”
    “Technology changes but humans is the core & will continue to be.”
    People-suck: “Make mistakes, cannot change, we work around them”
    Orgs-suck: “Orgs too slow to change”
    Change-is-hard: “People can slowly change but need tech to drive”
    Tech-FTW: “Tech so great, transforms the world”
    Tech-nerd: “Tech great for me, obviously also for others”
    Hardcore Soft SE: “Tech meaningless. Humans is key.”
    I’m an SE-Pluralist or SE-Nuanceist:
    “Ack the power of tech. But tech
    without human context & focus is rarely enough.
    Hybrid, multi-faceted studies & solutions needed.”

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  6. Think through your view on SE.
    Which knowledge & type of solutions will take us forward?
    Hopes 1: Primacy of Tech
    Each study: ask how contributes to your view.
    If not clear, how to fix it? Add more factors, consider more
    explanations?
    In SE community, how can you help promote a
    more dualist view (Tech&People!)

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  7. Challenge 2: Context & Nuance is king/queen!
    Cognition, Emotion, Motivation, … all inter-twined
    Psychology
    inherently
    complex!
    Many factors
    that inter-twine &
    co-depend!
    Need deep understanding
    of context

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  8. Challenge 2: Context & Nuance is king/queen!
    "The basic premise of SA is that
    the conditions of the situation are in the situation and
    therefore context as well as process should be under inquiry."

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  9. Challenge 2: Context & Nuance is king/queen!

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  10. Consider more factors and concepts.
    In addition to your main RQs, which contextual factors are
    critical? How can you collect data also on them?

    (Like culture & expectation variability in Linux civility discussion today)
    Hopes 2: Consider Context & Nuance
    Avoid single-message & single-concept papers.
    Find balance between clear / focused message &
    presentation and too simplistic study design.
    Consider & discuss alternative explanations.
    What else can explain this? What could have caused the
    engineer to act/write as she did?

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  11. Challenge 3: Forgetting active agents

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  12. Challenge 3: Forgetting active agents
    Human dev will/should game any “system” we set up
    Humans in SW dev
    are active and adapt!
    Solutions that affect their
    salary,
    career/status,
    situation,
    happiness
    will be “gamed”!
    “Gaming” signifies deliberate
    action but this also happens
    subconsciously.
    Anytime there is some
    “feedback loop”
    some “manipulation”
    likely happens.

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  13. If we act on this new knowledge I propose
    how will it affect the socio-technical system?
    Hopes 3: Considering humans as agents
    How can we introduce the solution to minimise
    adverse effects? And longer-term?
    How will they still “game” the solution?

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  14. Challenge 4: Solo investigators
    That we try to do it all without asking for help!

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  15. Challenge 4: Solo investigators
    We don’t involve social scientists or

    psychology researchers!
    Trend is positive here though, I hear!

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  16. Challenge 4: Solo investigators

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  17. How can you strengthen connections to
    social scientists, psychology researchers & X?
    Hopes 4: Inter-disciplinary Collaboration
    Are there funding calls favouring cross-
    collaboration?
    How can you respect the knowledge of others?
    Balance “tabula rasa” thinking with scientific
    collaboration!

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  18. Challenge 5: Splitting into silos
    Do we really need more / multiple workshops?

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  19. Challenge 5: Splitting into silos
    CognitiviSE 2020
    How perception, thoughts, memory, & problem solving affects SE
    ICSE 2020 Workshop, Seoul, South Korea
    SEmotivation 2021
    What really drives and motivates SW Engineers
    ICSE 2021 Workshop, Madrid, Spain
    TherapiSE 2021
    Science-based treatments for SE problems of individuals & teams
    ICSE 2021 Workshop, Madrid, Spain

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  20. Be open and allowing when reviewing papers.
    Look for ways of broadening perspectives and
    accepting complementary views and concepts.
    Hopes 5: Unifying rather than dividing
    When is it time for an (open) journal of ‘Soft’
    Software Engineering?
    (HASE!?)
    Submit also to the SE journals.
    Area is mature enough to warrant more journal
    publications.

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  21. Primacy of quantitative data & ‘objective’ methods
    More (SE) challenges but no time today…
    Replication crisis in (soft) SE
    Open Science with qualitative data
    Simplistic (statistical) analysis

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  22. Shameless plugs: Open Science

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  23. Lorenz attractor: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Lorenz-attractor_fig1_309729952
    Credit & Links to pictures
    Ambulance: https://unsplash.com/photos/Xruf17OrkwM
    Spy / agent: https://bit.ly/2QtSP2W
    Alex Hammond / Free Solo: https://bit.ly/2HF7NAd
    Silos: https://unsplash.com/photos/ZaVUNY5rHmY

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