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Making Software by Greg Wilson, Andy Oram

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The NASA Software Engineering Laboratory: A Vibrant Testbed for Empirical Research

To support the argument for informal learning I make in this chapter, I’ll summarize our experiences in the NASA Software Engineering Laboratory (SEL) over a period of 25 years, where we learned a great deal not just through experiments, but also by trying to understand the problems, applying potential solutions, and learning where they fell short. We did run controlled experiments and performed case studies, but they were done in the context of the larger evolutionary learning process.

The SEL was established in 1976 with the goals of understanding ground-support software development for satellites, and where possible, improving the process and product quality in the Flight Dynamics Division at Goddard using observation, experimentation, learning, and model building [Basili and Zelkowitz 1977]. The laboratory had a team that was supportive of learning, consisting of developers from both NASA and Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), along with a research group at the University of Maryland (UMD). The three groups formed a consortium. The organization made a decision to support our empirical research and integrate it into the overall activities of the organization. Support came from the project budget, rather than the research budget at NASA.

In 1976, very few empirical studies were being performed in software engineering. The idea of creating a laboratory environment to study software development was ...

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