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Explicit Programming Strategies

by   Thomas D. LaToza, et al.

Software developers solve a diverse and wide range of problems. While software engineering research often focuses on tools to support this problem solving, the strategies that developers use to solve problems are at least as important. In this paper, we offer a novel approach for enabling developers to follow explicit programming strategies that describe how an expert tackles a common programming problem. We define explicit programming strategies, grounding our definition in prior work both within software engineering and in other professions which have adopted more explicit procedures for problem solving. We then present a novel notation called Roboto and a novel StrategyTracker tool that explicitly represents programming strategies and frame executing strategies as a collaborative effort between human abilities to make decisions and computer abilities to structure process and persist information. Ina formative evaluation, 28 software developers of varying expertise completed a design task and a debugging task. We found that, compared to developers who are free to choose their strategies, developers gave explicit strategies experienced their work as more organized, systematic, and predictable, but also more constrained. Developers using explicit strategies were objectively more successful at the design and debugging tasks. We discuss the implications of Roboto and these findings, envisioning a thriving ecosystem of explicit strategies that accelerate and improve developers programming problem solving.


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