Maintaining mental models: a study of developer work habits

T. LaToza, G. Venolia, R. de Line. Maintaining mental models: a study of developer work habits. ICSE ’06: Proceeding of the 28th international conference on Software engineering, Shangai, China, 2006. [pdf]

This paper present the analysis of the study of developer work habits. Using two questionnaires and an interview cycle, the authors gathered a large amount of data from the Microsoft developer community.

Among the most striking results the authors highlighted the attitude that developers have to be bound to the written form of the code. Additionally for protecting their work from external and unpredictable sources of mistakes, a strong feeling of ownership arise first at the individual level and then at the group level. Specifically on the visualization of the code, the authors note that despite the availability of high-level views of code and visual editors such as tools for UML, developers remain focused on the code itself.

Another interesting idea from the paper is that developers keep an intricate mental model of the code in their head and in transient forms such as whiteboards and sketches.

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