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Blah, HCI

Response to [Novice Software …] by Begel et al.


This paper focuses on studying novice software developers in industry. The authors conducted an observation in a 2-month period where they recorded 8 newly-hired devs’ daily activity in their work environment. They summarized how much time each subject spent on each task. And also by the end of each day with no observation, they had the subjects recording a video diary where they answered a set of scaffolding questions – which are more subjective and free-formed. The intent of such study is learning what universities can improve their education for CS and SE students as well as how IT cooperates can better train their on-boarding novice employees.


  • “We shadowed them in all aspects of their jobs: coding, debugging, designing, and engaging with their team, and analyzed the types of tasks in which they engage.”
  • “Subjects were asked to talk about the most interesting thing that happened that day followed by a question asking them to reflect on some aspect of their college education or new hire experience.”


I really like how detailed the information the observations can offer (3.4 Task Sample). However, I do not quite agree with some of the methodology:

  • Having had such rich information, the paper just offered a figure showing the distribution of time in various tasks. More in-breath or in-depth information should have been offered such as how successful each task was and how such successfulness changed over time. Is there any patterns or common grounds of each subjects going through each task through trial and error? And so on.
  • The video diary showed interesting results (people are free to talk about what they feel). However, conducting them on no-observation days does not seem quite compelling. What I would do is having them connected to the observation day(s) and asking subjects questions specific with respect to their tasks and failures and lessons learnt.
  • I would have centered more on the observation when talking about implications. It strikes me that the implications they offered have loose connection with what they have observed, not to mention being realistic or not.

About Xiang 'Anthony' Chen

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