Friday, June 29, 2007

Lero Talk: (Bad) Software and the Law

Today, we(Anne, Daniel, Muireann and Gabriela) went to an interesting talk given by Professor Cem Kaner (Director of the Centre for Software Testing Education and Research at Florida Institute of Technology). He seems to be deeply involved in the development of the U.S. law on software. He also writes a blog, and has co-authored three books:

The main topic revolved around the consequences of delivering software that fails to perform as reasonably expected. Are software developers accountable to software customers? What if bad software actually kills people or causes nasty accidents?

He spoke about risks, material effects, the American attitude toward know-how and reverse engineering, he emphasized we can't be aware of all the emerging properties of software and he stated that most of the software problems are actually design defects.

Professor David Parnas, who acted as discussant, argued that software should not be in any law, and engineering laws should apply to software. From his perspective, complexity isn't just out there, it is something we humans create, and it shouldn't be an excuse for sloppiness.

An interesting idea that arose in the discussion was that, at some point, people become tied into using software, either because their data is in, and they are dependent on it, or - my insight- because their practices are heavily reliant on the tool, and they can't even imagine another way of performing a specific activity than the one they are familiar with.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Talk by Peter Eades

Muireann attended a talk by Peter Eades, University of Sydney, HxI Initiative and NICTA, in the ERB last week. The title of the talk was "Humans Interacting with Information, Machines, Systems, and Humans".

In this talk some technologies that support humans in their interactions with information, machines, systems, and other humans were discussed. The talk began with Information Visualization, that is, the art and science of mapping abstract data into visual forms. These visual forms enable humans to understand large data sets (such as social networks, and biological networks). Professor Eades gave some interesting new and old examples, which show the successes and failures of computer-based Information Visualization, including metro maps from around the world.
The 'Braccetto' project, which investigates how distributed teams of humans can collaborate over a shared visual workspace was also described. The 'Braccetto' project is developing "mixed presence groupware", that is, tools to enable partially co-located and partially remote teams to collaborate. The talk on the Braccetto project, which began in 2006, was interesting. The idea of a CTW (Configurable Tele-presence Workstation) is being explored. When collaborating, there are two screens and both teams can observe a vertical one, while running an application on the horizontal one. This system is also touch-screen.

Finally the 'HxI Initiative' was described briefly. This is a major initiative of the Australian Government that aims to increase Australia's research output in HxI.
Here's a presentation on the same topic that was available on the web.

Monday, June 25, 2007

EACE Workshop at Fraunhofer FOKUS

This draft has been sitting here for more than a month... Trying to finish & publish it now!

On June 22 early in the morning I flew to Berlin to attend the EACE Workshop at Fraunhofer FOKUS, after a demanding week spent in Dublin doing fieldwork.
The EACE project is part of the ongoing research in Europe looking at ICT technologies for developing new collaborative tools and environments. The EACE project is an 18 month FP6 Specific Support Action set to "investigate further the dynamics, potential and impacts of the technological advances in order to feed the policy making process".

The agenda sounded very interesting, and I was hoping to meet some of the people doing research in the field of Collaborative (e)Working Environments, which ties so well into our work. I'm part of several AMI@work communities, I'm subscribed to the ECOSPACE newsletter, but I didn't have yet the chance to meet face-to-face with people doing research in this area, and I thought this would be a good opportunity.

As usually when I travel abroad, I did my homework before(booked the flight, arranged accommodation at friends, printed out directions and a map). Unfortunately, the Deutsche Bahn website knew nothing about Kaiserin-Augusta Allee, and gave me directions to Kaiserin-Augusta Strasse instead. I had to arrive there before realising there was no Fraunhofer Institut in that area, and it took me a while to get to the right place, so I missed some of the morning talks.

Craig Cmehill from SAP has blogged the event on the spot (and then waited indefinitely for this post to be published, guessing - I don't know how!- that there was another blogger in the room!).

In the afternoon, Arnd Layer from IBM Germany spoke about Practical experience with social software at IBM. He spoke about profiles, communities, tagging, internal blogs and activities - all what Lotus Connections basically offers!, but he illustrated everything with examples, which made the talk really interesting. I really loved this particular tag cloud!

After spending the whole week absorbing information in my fieldwork, I was on the same wavelength with the speaker. When Craig asked: "Is this public? Can I blog this?", I basically couldn't keep from telling him it was on YouTube:-) as public as it can get!
Arnd also mentioned Lotus Greenhouse, meant to give customers and collaborators the feeling of the new products, and ThinkPlace, the internal Web application for facilitating innovation.

Arnd concluded with a few words of wisdom on Business Social Networking:
- listen to your customers;
- use blogs to communicate externally, watch blogs speaking about your own products;
- encourage adoption: instant messaging and web conferences can provide people with real time information;
- use wikis as glossaries for teams / FAQs.

He emphasized that we live in a globalised world, in which the ones who dare and are pro-active will have the advantages. Knowledge Management was - for too long- stuck in top down processes; social networking opens new perspectives.

The next speaker was Craig Cmehil, Community Evangelist at SAP AG - presenting The world(s) of the SAP community Network. This time, the facts were completely new, and I had a tremendous surprise to see what a big company can do with these nice tools, if the right attitude and culture are embraced. And of course, the right people - Craig appeared to me as a sort of wizard, open-minded, innovative and ready to try new things in new ways, always present in a hundred places at one time, reading, commenting, adjusting the tools to fit the people.
The SAP community network seems to me an impressive achievement, with separate areas dedicated to developers and business process experts.
What makes the concept interesting are its exclusive content, the downloads available, the worldwide collaboration it fosters and a recognition system for the contributions of its members.
Craig said 76% of the content was actually contributed by the users, which is quite impressive.
He also mentioned specific problems, like French speakers not mingling with the others and having their separate community - but the community network is actually supporting this.
New tools are offered to the community and people are experimenting. Some get adopted, some others don't. He mentioned Second Life and Twitter (and the case of Sen. Edwards that made the corporate world to actually pay attention to micro-blogging!)

The next presenter was Volkmar Pipek from University of Siegen, Germany. His talk was titled Every Software is Social -Appropriation Support in Collaborative Systems.
He tackled one of my favourite topics: the adoption of collaborative software tools, mentioning long-term studies on Groupware adoption such as Orlikowski 1996, Kasten & Jones 1998, Pipek & Wulf 1999.

I loved the idea that good design and user centred software development are important, but they don't guarantee adoption; use dynamics can‘t be fully anticipated.
I particularly liked the statement on the role of social practice around collaborative systems
in adoption. Actually the practice is the appropriation of these technologies!!

He illustrated his talk with a few examples from their work - the help function of a tool(an Eclipse-based client for the BSCW system) was combined with a wiki.

The main conclusion was that these ‘appropriation activities’ should be actively supported, and we're moving towards ‘Virtual Communities of Tool Practice’! The designers of a tool can do a lot, but the last mile has to be done by users.

Frank Fuchs Kittowski from Fraunhofer ISST was next, speaking about Integration of Knowledge Communities into Knowledge-intensive Business Processes.

I came across Frank's name while I was working for Fraunhofer IESE and some of my colleagues were involved in a project called APO-IT together with several other Fraunhofer Institutes, but I never had the chance to meet him in person before.

He spoke about making informal collaboration visible and integrating communities into business processes. Wikis were then brought into the picture for providing "context- (process-) based access to the community" and give birth to "collaborative knowledge activities without process
boundaries (in and across process steps)". I must confess I am a bit skeptical about this idea. It might sound good in theory (finding a cure for a pain we all know it's there!), but it doesn't pay any attention to the fact that communities are living organisms (if we speak about real communities here and not about special interest groups assembled by the management!)

Their approach is actually adding a wiki and a wiki interface to the existing APO Pilot process oriented knowledge base.

The interesting twist is that the application is designed for process integrated learning in the automotive industry.

The last speaker was George Milis, from European Dynamics who presented the current results of the EACE project in a talk titled: Towards a New Policy Framework for the Adoption of Electronic Collaborative Working Environments.
The project partners set to elaborate policy recommendations for CWE adoption(Collaborative eWorking Environments) in the EU.

What they came up with was a "layered ontology of collaboration patterns". More on the framework and the 3 selected CWE prototypes in George's slides!

There were mentions about counterbalancing the American supremacy in designing collaborative software tools (doh!). Someone mentioned the Buerger Portal initiative in Germany - giving every german citizen an email address, a web page, access to shared spaces (who's interested already has all these).
Someone asked the following question: "If the availability of the technologies is not a problem, then how can EU stimulate the adoption?" I tried to bring into discussion the idea the approach shouldn't be centred on the technology and the collaborative tools, but on the purpose for which one would embrace these tools. If a job application procedure or a tax claim can only be done online, people will learn how to use it. But putting the carriage in front of the horses won't help!
I mentioned Karin Knorr-Cetina's work on Sociality with Objects that has been used by Jyri Engestrom to show why some social network services work and others don't.

Another discussion topic was the (disappearing) work-life balance. People tend to take care of personal matters durring the working hours and work from home in the evenings, so the boundaries between work and free time tend to get blurred. Arnd stated that what's happening inside IBM shows that actually adding a social dimension to work improves productivity.
Volkmar argued that life needs structure -say the psychologists!

The question: Do we need a collaboration etiquette(c-etiquette)? was also asked. Could such an etiquette be modelled ? (In my opinion, it can only emerge!)

The opportunity of using CWE as a vehicle for transferring knowledge and skills to new and younger employees was also touched in the discussion.

The slides of the presentations were made available for download, and there are also a few pictures from the event available.

Together with Craig Cmehil, we managed to ignite some interest for social software tools and especially for Twitter and Dopplr! Unfortunately, the enthusiasm was short lived - none of the invitations I've sent were ever answered!

Craig also uses a nice tool I wasn't aware of - Time-to-Meet - for scheduling his meetings.
There's a link to a database full of other fancy applications on his blog.

In conclusion, it was an interesting event and a good networking opportunity, but my original expectation of getting associated with some FP7 proposal writers in this area wasn't unfortunately met.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My fieldwork coming to a natural closure

The team I have observed for 16 months is handing over their project to another team in Europe. The joys of global distribution of software development:-)

So, my time with them has come to a natural closure. And in a way, I'm glad it happened like this - it was so difficult to make up my mind about when to stop!

The team is staying together and will be assigned another project, and I think this was a very wise decision. It takes about 6 months for a newbie to come to full speed (maybe less if he's only changing projects inside the same business unit!). There's so much to learn, not necessarily about coding, but also about people, tools, internal processes and procedures...

If I give it a thought, only 6 of the members we met in the beginning of our study are still part of the team. Probably 9-10 left, joining other projects, sometimes leaving the company, some other times the country... That's life! People are not spending 20 years of their lives in the same job anymore - they're moving, learning, adapting, and I don't think this is bad. It keeps you alive!

As a former software developer, there were times when I felt I got too close to my "subjects", becoming involved in their activities (at least emotionally;-) . Ethnographers call this "going native"!

But now that the circle is closed, and I'll have to move on and do the writing... the most challenging part!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lero Talk on AUTOSAR

On Wednesday, before our presentation at the OSS 07 conference, Gabriela and Muireann attended a Lero talk given by Uwe Werner from Bosch on "AUTOSAR – Automotive Open System Architecture: Challenges and Opportunities".

AUTOSAR is an open standards organization created to provide open standards for the architecture of the software created for the automotive industry. It brings together an impressive number of major car manufacturers, but also providers of various car parts and research organisations.

Open Source Software Conference at UL

The 3rd International Conference on Open Source Systems is hosted by our University between 11 and 14 July.

As stated by the organisers, "the goal of OSS 2007 is to provide an international forum where a diverse community of professionals from academia, industry and public administration can come together to share research findings and practical experiences. The conference is also meant to provide information and education to practitioners, identify directions for further research, and to be an ongoing platform for technology transfer."

On Wednesday 13 July, our paper "Sprint-driven development: working, learning and the process of enculturation in the PyPy community"(Sigfridsson, Avram, Sheehan, Sullivan) was scheduled in a very select company:
  • part of Prof. Kevin Crowston's team at Syracuse University, Qing Li presented the paper "Emergent Decision-making Practices in Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) Development Teams" (Heckman, Crowston, Eseryel, Allen, Li);
  • Ari Jaaksi from Nokia presented his paper "Experiences on product development with open source", after giving an excellent keynote in the morning.

Last year in August, the PyPy project organised a sprint at UL. It was a madly busy period, but Anders, Daniel and myself decided to take the opportunity to observe the sprint. We spent part of that week in August trying to make ourselves useful to the team, talking to them, watching their interaction, recording their work sessions. They were so used to being studied, that they graciously allowed us to sit in and listen.

Early in January, we decided to put in a paper for the OSS 07 conference. The paper was accepted and this is how we got to participate.

Two other papers, presented in the afternoon, were also well connected to our topic:
  • "Learning through practical involvement in the OSS ecosystem: experiences from a Masters assignment "( Lundell, Persson, Lings -University of Sk√∂vde, Sweden), presented by Bjorn Lundell;
  • "Learning and the Imperative of Production in F/OS development"- presented by Evangelia Berdou (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK).

STARs participant joined our project team...

Muireann O'Brien, teacher at the Carrigaline Community School, joined our project team for the following 8 weeks.

She is funded through the SFI STARs programme:

The STARS programme is an initiative through which teachers can receive support to conduct research within an SFI-funded research team during school holiday periods for a period of between 6 to 8 weeks. Teachers receive a stipend equivalent of up to 8 weeks salary for their participation in the programme. The goal is to help teachers renew their interest in science as researchers, connect them with faculty in the universities and institutes of technology and enhance the teaching of science across the educational system. The primary aim of the programme is to disseminate new skills and knowledge to teachers which can then be passed on to their students.

Muireann will be involved in all our project activities during her stay with us. After an induction period that will give her the chance to become familiar both with the Global Software Development literature and with the particular approach of our project, we are going to involve her in most of our activities. She will also be given the chance to participate in workshops and meetings with other research groups studying Global Software Development from different perspectives, in order to get a more complete picture of research being under way in this area.

Having Muireann on board this summer will allow us to get a better image of the students' level of understanding and enable her to explain our research to her peers and students.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Software Process Measurement

Anne attended this talk on Software Metrics at Lero today.

The speaker was Jari Soini from Tampere University of Technology in Finland. He is in the process of writing up his PhD and because of his interest in Software Process, has connections with Ita Richardson, hence his visit to Lero.

Jari is part of a research group whose aim is to provide a metrics database to assist SMEs in Finland define measurement objectives, i.e. what can and should be measured in the software development process. Knowledge sharing is a key motivator in designing the database. The SMEs are finding measurement difficult and want to learn from each other. Metrics have been gathered from over 40 companies through a combination of interviews and a detailed questionnaire. The metrics database has a web based interface which is designed by the research team with continuous feedback and evaluation from the user group.

There was interesting discussion around potential bias in the evaluation of metrics to be included in the database. The research group doesn't identify who decides within each SME what should be measured; who completes the questionaire; who judges questionaire categories such as reliability &accuracy; who are the users of the system.

As part of the data gathering process 3 categories of beneficiary are identified: upper management; project management; & software engineers. One of the outcomes of the research was that the primary beneficiaries of the metrics are upper management (82%), with only 7% aimed at software engineers as key beneficiaries, despite the fact that software engineers are tasked with collecting most of the measurements. Work has not been done in this project on the actual or perceived impact on software engineers.

Abstracts relating to the topics that were discussed can be found on the Lero website.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Educamp at Tipperary Institute of Technology

Even if both Michael and Gabriela had the intention to attend the Educamp at the Tipperary Institute of Technology in Thurles yesterday, in the end, Muireann had to go on her own. Having read the announcement and listening to Gabriela's explanations on Barcamps and Unconferences, Muireann had the impression that she would end up at a very unorthodox event. It wasn't quite like that ;-). Here's a press article related to the event.

The event was organised as a formal conference "The Internet Experience in Education", with a number of speakers in the morning session and organised workshops in the afternoon. The speakers included Dr. Rachel O'Connell, Bebo, Bernie Goldbach, Social Media in Education, Simon Grehan, Irish Children's use of Social Networks, Dr. Deirdre Butler, Innovative Teaching and Seamus Ryan on Whole School Information Technology. A number of teachers spoke on innovative teaching using technology in the classroom including Ronan Ward, who won an Innovative Teachers Award at the EMEA Innovative Teachers forum in Paris this year.

Muireann found the whole experience very refreshing and was particularly interested in the area of Social Networking as the general feeling was that rather than fight this phenomenon, which has always been the case up to now, teachers will have to learn more about it and try to develop ways to turn it into something more positive. It will be important to educate students (and teachers!) on how to use this media safely, to enhance the experience in the classroom.
Workshops in the afternoon included Audio and Video in the Classroom (using Podcasts etc), Internet Safety, and another gave tips on using OpenSource Software in schools.

Each participant received a USB memory stick with all presentations and useful information. This will be a valuable resource when introducing the ideas to the classroom. Muireann came away from the conference with great enthusiasm and felt the large attendance illustrated the willingness of teachers to embrace innovation and creativity through technology.