, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 5-34
Date: 10 Aug 2010

Resumption strategies for interrupted programming tasks

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Abstract

Interrupted and blocked tasks are a daily reality for professional programmers. Unfortunately, the strategies programmers use to recover lost knowledge and rebuild context when resuming work have not yet been well studied. In this paper, we describe an exploratory analysis performed on 10,000 recorded sessions of 86 programmers and a survey of 414 programmers to understand the various strategies and coping mechanisms developers use to manage interrupted programming tasks. Based on the analysis, we propose a framework for understanding these strategies and suggest how task resumption might be better supported in future development tools. The results suggest that task resumption is a frequent and persistent problem for developers. For example, we find that only 10% of the sessions have programming activity resume in less than 1 min after an interruption, only 7% of the programming sessions involve no navigation to other locations prior to editing. We also found that programmers use multiple coping mechanisms to recover task context when resuming work.