Helen Sharp: "The Role of Ethnography in Empirical Software Engineering"


Donnerstag, 30. April 2015 14.15 Uhr
Im Neuenheimer Feld 325, Seminarraum 23 (1. OG)


Ethnography is a qualitative research method used to study people and cultures. It is largely adopted in disciplines outside of software engineering, including different areas of computer science. Ethnography can provide an in-depth understanding of the socio-technological realities surrounding everyday software development practice, i.e., to understand not only what practitioners do, but also why they do what they do. Despite its potential, ethnography has not been widely adopted by empirical software engineering researchers. The main goal of this talk is to explain how empirical software engineers would benefit from adopting ethnography. This is achieved by explicating four roles that ethnography can play in furthering the goals of empirical software engineering: to strengthen investigations into the social and human aspects of software engineering; to inform the design of software engineering tools; to improve process development; and to inform research programmes. In this talk I will introduce ethnography, explaining its origin, context, strengths and weaknesses, present a set of dimensions that help to position ethnography as a useful and usable approach to software engineering research, and discuss a range of myths and expectations about it. Throughout I will use examples of my own ethnographic studies and those of others.

Helen Sharp is Professor of Software Engineering at The Open University, UK. Her research focuses on the human and social aspects of software engineering, which has led to projects looking at software quality, user experience design, distributed teams, and agile software development. Helen conducted her first ethnographic study of software development in the early 1990s. Since then she has conducted many more empirical studies, drawing on a wide range of empirical methods, including ethnography, as well as theories from others fields such as distributed cognition and technological frames.

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