Open University leads the way with £1 million software engineering project

Posted by g.law on 20 April 2020 - 12:52pm
coourful code
Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash

By Bridgette Honegan

This blog post was first published on the Open University's news pages

Researchers from The Open University (OU) are to spearhead a £1 million project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), to change the culture of software engineering.

The socio-technical resilience in software development project, also known as STRIDE, will challenge the focus of software engineering on automation and new technologies, to put people at the heart of software development.

Automation vs people in software

Software production is increasingly becoming automated, for example through development environments. This project focuses on how software systems can be made more resilient to change and how organisations can become more resilient to loss of expertise, by examining the relationship between tools that automate tasks and the work of software developers.

Led by Helen Sharp, Professor of Software Engineering at the OU, STRIDE brings together engineering and social psychology to evaluate the human experience and the ability to adapt to change in the software engineering sector. Professor Mark Levine of Lancaster University and Dr Caroline Jay of the University of Manchester are part of the multidisciplinary team.

Professor Helen Sharp of the OU, explains: "The project brings together and extends the OU’s work in the Software Engineering and Design research group on empirical studies of software developers and automated software engineering.

"We’re working with Lancaster University to bring a social psychology view to this area, and with the Software Sustainability Institute to include research software engineers. This combination is particularly exciting because of the opportunities it brings both for interdisciplinary working and for far-reaching impact."

Adapting to change

Over the course of the three-year project, STRIDE researchers will conduct workplace studies on two key groups: commercial developers, software engineers who work in corporate industries such as insurance and banking developing apps and new technology, and research software engineers, who are scientists by profession but develop software to support research.

The multidisciplinary team will assess each group’s ability to adapt to change during the workplace studies and identify resilience markers, a method for overcoming a problem or limitation in a program or system. The team will also draw on insights from social psychology to understand the human components of software development. Insights gained from workplace studies and experimentation will be prototyped through an existing tool that helps developers to detect errors in software code.

STRIDE will look to identify current practice and help people working in software engineering to decide when to use automation over human intervention. To that end, the team will use their research findings to develop toolkits that help determine what to automate.

Professor Mark Levine of Lancaster University, said: "The Lancaster Social Psychology group are delighted to be able to continue this collaboration with The Open University. Lancaster is at the cutting edge of research at the intersection of social psychology and new technologies and is excited to explore the psychological implications of automation and resilience in the process of software development."

Advocacy in software engineering

Advocacy of software engineering is a key element of the project and, as such, the team plans to engage with EPSRC communities and the wider public.

Professor Sharp explains: "Our vision for software engineering advocacy in this project is one that recognises the fluid nature of software development – and that it is undertaken by a wide range of people, not just trained engineers. In this rapidly changing field, we need to understand which software development practices are key to resilience, and how best to promote them within the profession and beyond."

Researchers will begin work on the STRIDE project in July 2020.


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