Programmer, Interrupted: Data, Brains, and Tools

Speaker: Chris Parnin , Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: Thursday, March 13, 2014

Time: 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM Note: all times are in the Eastern Time Zone

Refreshments: 10:45 AM

Public: Yes

Location: Patil/Kiva 32-G449

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Host: Philip Guo, MIT CSAIL

Contact: Juho Kim, 6507969759,

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Reminder Subject: TALK: Programmer, Interrupted: Data, Brains, and Tools


Despite its vast capacity and associative powers, the human brain does
not deal well with interruptions. Particularly in situations where
information density is high, such as during a programming task,
recovering from an interruption requires extensive time and effort.
Although researchers recognize this problem, no programming tool takes
into account the brain's structure and limitations in its design. In
this talk, I describe my research collecting evidence about the impact
of interruptions on programmers, understanding how programmers managed
them in practice, and designing tools that can support interrupted
programmers. I present a conceptual framework for understanding human
memory organization and its strengths and weaknesses, particularly
with respect to dealing with work interruptions. The framework
explains empirical results obtained from experiments in which
programmers were interrupted.
For researchers, the intent is to use the framework to design development
tools capable of compensating for human memory limitations. For
developers, the insights and strategies from the framework should
allow reflection on our own programming habits and work practices and
how they may be tailored to better fit our human brain. Finally, I
describe some initial results in using fMRI and EMG to further
understand the programmer's brain, with long-term impact in education,
evaluation, and tool and language design.


Chris Parnin is a Phd candidate in the Computer Science department at
Georgia Institute of Technology and a Research Scientist II at the
Georgia Tech Research Institute. His research spans the study of
software engineering from empirical, HCI, and cognitive neuroscience
perspectives. Two recent research topics include A) using fMRI and EMG
to actually study the brain activity of developers and B)
understanding how crowds of developers come together on sites such as
Stack Overflow and Github to contribute software knowledge. He has
worked in Human Interactions in Programming groups at Microsoft
Research, performed field studies with ABB Research, and has over a
decade of professional programming experience in the defense industry.
Chris's research has been recognized by the SIGSOFT Distinguished
Paper Award at ICSE 2009, Best Paper Nominee at CHI 2010, Best Paper
Award at ICPC 2012, IBM HVC Most Influential Paper Award 2013,
featured in Game Developer's Magazine, Hacker Monthly, and frequently
discussed on Hacker News, Reddit, and Slashdot.

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See other events that are part of the HCI Seminar Series 2013/2014.

Created by Juho Kim Email at Wednesday, February 05, 2014 at 11:50 AM.