Belief & Evidence in Empirical Software Engineering – ICSE 2016

Empirical software engineering has produced a steady stream of evidence-based results concerning the factors that affect important outcomes such as cost, quality, and interval. However, programmers often also have strongly-held a priori opinions about these issues. These opinions are important, since developers are highly-trained professionals whose beliefs would doubtless affect their practice. As in evidence-based medicine, disseminating empirical findings to developers is a key step in ensuring that the findings impact practice. In this paper, we describe a case study, on the prior beliefs of developers at Microsoft, and the relationship of these beliefs to actual empirical data on the projects in which these developers work. Our findings are that a) programmers do indeed have very strong beliefs on certain topics b) their beliefs are primarily formed based on personal experience, rather than on findings in empirical research and c) beliefs can vary with each project, but do not necessarily correspond with actual evidence in that project. Our findings suggest that more effort should be taken to disseminate empirical findings to developers and that more in-depth study the interplay of belief & evidence in software practice is needed.

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