The Sky is Not the Limit: Multitasking Across GitHub Projects

TitleThe Sky is Not the Limit: Multitasking Across GitHub Projects
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsVasilescu, B, Blincoe, K, Xuan, Q, Casalnuovo, C, Damian, D, Devanbu, P, Filkov, V
Refereed DesignationRefereed
Secondary TitleProceedings of the 38th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2016)
Place PublishedNew York, NY, USA
ISBN Number978-1-4503-3900-1
Keywordsgithub, multitasking, productivity

Software development has always inherently required multitasking: developers switch between coding, reviewing, testing, designing, and meeting with colleagues. The advent of software ecosystems like GitHub has enabled something new: the ability to easily switch between projects. Developers also have social incentives to contribute to many projects; prolific contributors gain social recognition and (eventually) economic rewards. Multitasking, however, comes at a cognitive cost: frequent context-switches can lead to distraction, sub-standard work, and even greater stress. In this paper, we gather ecosystem-level data on a group of programmers working on a large collection of projects. We develop models and methods for measuring the rate and breadth of a developers' context-switching behavior, and we study how context-switching affects their productivity. We also survey developers to understand the reasons for and perceptions of multitasking. We find that the most common reason for multitasking is interrelationships and dependencies between projects. Notably, we find that the rate of switching and breadth (number of projects) of a developer's work matter. Developers who work on many projects have higher productivity if they focus on few projects per day. Developers that switch projects too much during the course of a day have lower productivity as they work on more projects overall. Despite these findings, developers perceptions of the benefits of multitasking are varied.

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