Today was a Good Day: The Daily Life of Software Developers

I am excited to announce that another paper that I’ve worked on during my second internship at Microsoft Research was just accepted to the IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering Journal.

Abstract: What is a good workday for a software developer? What is a typical workday? We seek to answer these two questions to learn how to make good days typical. Concretely, answering these questions will help to optimize development processes and select tools that increase job satisfaction and productivity. Our work adds to a large body of research on how software developers spend their time. We report the results from 5971 responses of professional developers at Microsoft, who reflected about what made their workdays good and typical, and self-reported about how they spent their time on various activities at work. We developed conceptual frameworks to help define and characterize developer workdays from two new perspectives: good and typical. Our analysis confirms some findings in previous work, including the fact that developers actually spend little time on development and developers’ aversion for meetings and interruptions. It also discovered new findings, such as that only 1.7% of survey responses mentioned emails as a reason for a bad workday, and that meetings and interruptions are only unproductive during development phases; during phases of planning, specification and release, they are common and constructive. One key finding is the importance of agency, developers’ control over their workday and whether it goes as planned or is disrupted by external factors. We present actionable recommendations for researchers and managers to prioritize process and tool improvements that make good workdays typical. For instance, in light of our finding on the importance of agency, we recommend that, where possible, managers empower developers to choose their tools and tasks.

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Design Recommendations for Self-Monitoring in the Workplace: Studies in Software Development

I am excited to announce my first paper to the CSCW conference!

Abstract: One way to improve the productivity of knowledge workers is to increase their self-awareness about productivity at work through self-monitoring. Yet, little is known about expectations of, the experience with, and the impact of self-monitoring in the workplace. To address this gap, we studied software developers, as one community of knowledge workers. We used an iterative, user-feedback-driven development approach (N=20) and a survey (N=413) to infer design elements for workplace self-monitoring, which we then implemented as a technology probe called WorkAnalytics. We field-tested these design elements during a three-week study with software development professionals (N=43). Based on the results of the field study, we present design recommendations for self-monitoring in the workplace, such as using experience sampling to increase the awareness about work and to create richer insights, the need for a large variety of different metrics to retrospect about work, and that actionable insights, enriched with benchmarking data from co-workers, are likely needed to foster productive behavior change and improve collaboration at work. Our work can serve as a starting point for researchers and practitioners to build self-monitoring tools for the workplace.

Co-Authors: André N. Meyer (University of Zurich), Gail C. Murphy (University of British Columbia), Tom Zimmermann (Microsoft Research), Thomas Fritz (University of Zurich)

You can download the pre-print here.

PersonalAnalytics, our self-monitoring tool, is available on Github here.

Goodbye, Picturex

It is with a deep regret that we announce that we will shutdown our beloved service, Picturex. We started Picturex almost five years ago, with a small team of passionate and experienced engineers and IT-professionals at MIT Cloud Innovation AG. Over the years, we have tried to follow our vision of making photo sharing private, secure and easy.

It has been a fantastic journey for us, we have learnt a lot, and we want to THANK YOU, our valued users, supporters, testers and partners, for giving us the opportunity to serve you! 😍

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Goodbye, TouchMountain.

Hello everyone,

it’s with a heavy heart that we share with you the news that TouchMountain will be shutting down on December 31th, 2018.

The past seven years have been an incredible journey for all of us. What started as a university industry project at MIT Cloud Innovation AG shortly after Windows Phone 7.5 launched, quickly grew into an award-winning app, with love and support from almost 70′000 users. Our database stored almost 900′000 different mountains, overall almost 100′000 peaks have been recognized, and the top peaks (Mount Everest, Matterhorn, Rigi, Pilatus) were each recognized thousands of times. We want to say a big THANK YOU to all our users, supporters, testers and sponsors/partners 😍

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Screencast: Fostering Software Developers’ Productivity at Work

Screencast of my talk that I recently gave at Tasktop. I talked about how we aim to improve developer productivity by increasing their awareness about their work, interruptions, habits and goals.

Click here to access the full blogpost by Patrick Anderson from Tasktop

Sensing Interruptibility in the Office: A Field Study on the Use of Biometric and Computer Interaction Sensors

Knowledge workers experience many interruptions during their work day. Especially when they happen at inopportune moments, interruptions can incur high costs, cause time loss and frustration. Knowing a person’s interruptibility allows optimizing the timing of interruptions and minimize disruption. Recent advances in technology provide the opportunity to collect a wide variety of data on knowledge workers to predict interruptibility. While prior work predominantly examined interruptibility based on a single data type and in short lab studies, we conducted a two-week field study with 13 professional software developers to investigate a variety of computer interaction, heart-, sleep-, and physical activity-related data. Our analysis shows that computer interaction data is more accurate in predicting interruptibility at the computer than biometric data (74.8% vs. 68.3% accuracy), and that combining both yields the best results (75.7% accuracy). Read more →

Why we Dislike Meetings, and Why Agendas make them Better

One topic that many software developers in our productivity studies are very vocal about are meetings. For example, in an online survey with 379 developers, 58% described meetings as a waste of time – one of the main reasons for feeling unproductive. In this blogpost, I explore reasons why meetings are so unpopular, especially for developers, and discuss why I think meeting agendas could make your meetings more efficient and successful!

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Why you need to know your priorities to reach a work-life balance

I am often thinking and talking to other people about how to reach a balance in work-life; a balance that I sometimes reach, but often cannot hold for long. The reason is that I often lose track of what really matters, what brings me forward, and what I enjoy doing. I start to say ‘yes’ to all requests, start to work long hours, stop my exercise routine, and slowly find myself (again) fighting against the storm of work and obligations…

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Characterizing Software Developers by Perceptions of Productivity

This work has been conducted by André Meyer (UZH), Thomas Zimmermann (Microsoft Research) and Thomas Fritz (UBC). This research has been published to the industrial papers track at the ESEM’17 in Toronto. Thomas Zimmermann will present it on Thursday, November 9th, 2017 at 1pm in Session 4B: Qualitative Research.

Studying Developers’ Perceptions of Productivity instead of Measuring it

To overcome the ever-growing demand for software, we need new ways of optimizing the productivity of software developers. Existing work has predominantly focused on top-down approaches for defining or measuring productivity, such as lines of code, function points, or completed tasks over time. While these measurements are valuable to compare certain aspects of productivity, we argue that they miss the many other factors that influence the success and productivity of a software developer, such as the fragmentation of their work, their experience, and so on.

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The Work Life of Developers: Activities, Switches and Perceived Productivity

This work has been conducted by André Meyer (UZH), Laura Barton (UBC), Gail Murphy (UBC), Thomas Zimmermann (Microsoft) and Thomas Fritz (UZH).

Many software development companies strive to enhance the productivity of their engineers. All too often, efforts aimed at improving developer productivity are undertaken without knowledge about how developers spend their time at work and how it influences their own perception of productivity and well-being. For example, a software developers’ work day might be influenced by the tasks that are performed, by the infrastructure, tools used, or the office environment. Many of these factors result in activity and context switches that can cause fragmented work and, thus, often have a negative impact on the developers’ perceived productivity, quality of output and progress on tasks.

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What is machine learning and why is it crucial to our future?

Besides “artificial intelligence” and “virtual reality”, “machine learning” (short: ML) is probably the most hyped technology in the past few years. And, at least in my opinion, with every right. However, it’s not that as if ML was just invented recently, as the term was first coined in 1959 by Arthur Samuel, a pioneer in the field of ML who described the technology as:

Machine learning is a field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.

What is ML?

ML is a computational, or rather, statistical, method that uses experience to improve the performance of a topic or make accurate predictions. The ‘experience’ in that case is based on past data that we can access and that is labelled or categorized (by humans). The quality of the predictions depends on the accuracy and amount of the data.

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FlowLight: How a Traffic-Light Reduces Interruptions at Work

I am extremely happy to announce our newest project, FlowLight, a traffic-light-like light for knowledge workers to reduce their interruptions at work, and makes them more productive! The research project, published with the title “Reducing Interruptions at Work: A Large-Scale Field Study of FlowLight”, was conducted in close collaboration with researchers at ABB. It was also awared with an Honorable Mention award.

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Picturex: Collect the best Snapshots from your visit at Tierpark Goldau

I am thrilled to announce the first publicly available version of Picturex for Business. Tierpark Goldau, a Swiss landscape and animal park, offers its visitors a unique way to share and exchange the best snapshots they took during their visit at the Tierpark. Also, users of the Tierpark Momente-App can create private photo albums to share their photos in private within their family.

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David Allen: Why you should keep things off your mind to get into “the zone”

What is productivity? Many would describe it as the time you spend in “the zone” when you get things done. The time you are fully present, totally engaged with what happens, time you spend in the productive flow. But how to get there? David Allen, one of the responsible people that elicited my interest in researching productivity, talked about his time-management method getting things done in on TED a few years back.

Being appropriately engaged with what is going on

The secret to stress-free productivity, according to Allen, is to be totally committed and engaged with just a single thing at a time. The more that is on your mind at the same time, the more inappropriately you are engaged, and the less you can focus on just doing the thing you should be doing. It may sound counter intuitive or even awkward, but the key to being able to fully engage with the current project/task is to park everything unrelated to the task on a separate list that you regularly revisit in the right time and trust that it lets you never forget a thought or idea.

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Spending time in the mountains makes you happy

According to an Austrian Psychologist, people who regularly go for hikes in the mountains are happier. The positive effect already starts after 3+ hours and reduces negative feelings such as fear of failing or lack of energy.

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