Dual Ecological Measures of Focus in Software Development

Daryl Posnett, Raissa D'Souza, Premkumar Devanbu, and Vladimir Filkov

UC Davis, USA

Track: Technical Research
Session: Process
Work practices vary among software developers. Some are highly focused on a few artifacts; others make wide-ranging contributions. Similarly, some artifacts are mostly authored, or owned, by one or few developers; others have very wide ownership. Focus and ownership are related but different phenomena, both with strong effect on software quality. Prior studies have mostly targeted ownership; the measures of ownership used have generally been based on either simple counts, information-theoretic views of ownership, or social-network views of contribution patterns. We argue for a more general conceptual view that unifies developer focus and artifact ownership. We analogize the developer-artifact contribution network to a predator-prey food web, and draw upon ideas from ecology to produce a novel, and conceptually unified view of measuring focus and ownership. These measures relate to both cross-entropy and Kullback-Liebler divergence, and simultaneously provide two normalized measures of focus from both the developer and artifact perspectives. We argue that these measures are theoretically well-founded, and yield novel predictive, conceptual, and actionable value in software projects. We find that more focused developers introduce fewer defects than defocused developers. In contrast, files that receive narrowly focused activity are more likely to contain defects than other files.