The End of a Myth, Programmer Productivity

September, 2020

The September 2020 Tech Talk was presented by Dr. Bill Nichols

Abstract:

One often-quoted truism in software engineering is that good programmers are “much much better” than bad programmers. The size of “much much better” is widely debated, but ranges such as 10 times more productive are often cited as conservative estimates. This presentation argues that such statements are misleading and miss numerous important effects. Based on the studies described, it would appear that some programmers are not inherently exceedingly better than others, but they are often somewhat better or worse than themselves.

About the Presenter 

Dr. Bill Nichols is a senior member of the technical staff in the Software Solutions Division of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He has more than 30 years of technical and management experience in the software engineering industry. His current work focuses on software process measurement, project management, quality, security, and improving development team performance. Dr. Nichols is a Senior Member of IEEE and a member of ACM.

During his tenure at the SEI, Dr. Nichols has worked with the Team Software Process (TSP) Initiative and Software Measurement and Analysis. He has co-authored several TSP publications, including the PSP and TSP Bodies of Knowledge and the TSP Coach Mentoring Program Guidebook. Recent work includes software metrics and software security metrics, including the government’s guide to using security tools in software development.

Prior to joining the SEI, Dr. Nichols earned a doctorate in physics from Carnegie Mellon University after completing graduate work in particle physics. He later led a software development team at the Bettis Laboratory near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he developed and maintained nuclear engineering and scientific software for 14 years.

While working in physics and nuclear engineering, he contributed to technical articles appearing in Nuclear Instruments and Methods, IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, and Physics Review Letters. Since Joining the SEI, he has published articles on software metrics, process, and quality in IEEE Software, Software Quality Professional, Transactions on Software Engineering, and the Journal of Empirical Software Engineering.

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