February 25, 2019: Making It Work in Practice

From 2011 to 2016, Jorge Aranda and I tried to get software engineering researchers and practitioners to talk to one another by writing reviews of papers written by the former that we thought would be of interest to the latter. The site, called It Will Never Work in Theory, never attracted much of a following: at peak we had a couple of hundred readers, but only a handful ever left comments, and the community contributions we hoped for never materialized.

I was reminded of this while reading Lauren Margulieux’s summaries of education research articles. They’ve introduced me to a lot of work I’d never heard of, but I doubt that any of the people I teach with will read even these summaries, much less the original papers. Twenty-one years after I first started teaching researchers how to program, I still don’t know how to get programmers (including those who teach programming) to pay attention to research. A lot of researchers make it harder than has to be, but most of the programmers I know genuinely don’t understand that when they read a claim about test-driven learning, their first response should be to say, “Citation, please.”

I believe the only way to fix this is to replace our current UML-teamwork-and-handwaving introductions to sofware engineering with courses in which students learn the scientific method and the value of research by recapitulating the analyses of landmark papers. I still think the time is right, and next week I’ll start interviewing candidates for a summer internship to develop course materials for teaching basic data analysis to programmers using software engineering problems and data sets. I’m looking forward to it, and I’ll post updates here.

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