Socio-Technical Developer Networks: Should We Trust Our Measurements?

Andrew Meneely and Laurie Williams
North Carolina State University, USA
Developer Waves

Software development teams must be properly structured to provide effective collaboration to produce quality software. Over the last several years, social network analysis (SNA) has emerged as a popular method for studying the collaboration and organization of people working in large software development teams. Researchers have been modeling networks of developers based on socio-technical connections found in software development artifacts. Using these developer networks, researchers have proposed several SNA metrics that can predict software quality factors and describe the team structure. But do SNA metrics measure what they purport to measure? The objective of this research is to investigate if SNA metrics represent socio-technical relationships by examining if developer networks can be corroborated with developer perceptions. To measure developer perceptions, we developed an online survey that is personalized to each developer of a development team based on that developer’s SNA metrics. Developers answered questions about other members of the team, such as identifying their collaborators and the project experts. A total of 124 developers responded to our survey from three popular open source projects: the Linux kernel, the PHP programming language, and the Wireshark network protocol analyzer. Our results indicate that connections in the developer network are statistically associated with the collaborators whom the developers named. Our results substantiate that SNA metrics represent socio-technical relationships in open source development projects, while also clarifying how the developer network can be interpreted by researchers and practitioners.