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Making Software by Greg Wilson, Andy Oram

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What Is All This Talk About?

Given that programmers spend a large fraction of their work days in conversation, you might wonder what they’re talking about. A pair of recent studies that my colleagues and I conducted at Microsoft Corporation provides some insight into this question. Through surveys, interviews, and direct observation, we learned that a lot of the conversations are for information seeking—that is, looking for answers to questions that come up during programming tasks. These studies taught us a lot about why programmers often prefer face-to-face meetings and exactly what questions come up the most.

Getting Answers to Questions

In the first study, from 2006, we conducted a survey of 157 randomly chosen programmers and follow-up interviews with 11 of them. We asked them about their daily work activities, and in particular what they found difficult [LaToza et al. 2006]. Their responses about the time they spent on various work activities were consistent with the findings of Perry et al. The average percentage of time spent on communication was higher than for any other activity. The survey also asked respondents to estimate the percentage of time they spent using various communication media and to rate how effective they thought each medium was. The results are shown in Figure 16-1. These results are also in line with Perry et al., in that respondents spent the most of their time in unplanned face-to-face meetings. They also rated this as the most effective type of communication. ...

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