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Using ethnographic methods to carry out human factors research in software engineering

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This article describes how ethnographic methods were used to observe and analyze student teams working on software engineering (SE) projects. The aim of this research was to uncover the effects of the interplay of different personality types, as measured by a test based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), on the workings of an SE team. Using ethnographic methods allowed the researchers to record the effects of personality type on behavior toward teammates and how this related to the amount of disruption and positive ideas brought forward from each member; also examined in detail were issues that were either dogged by disruption or that did not have sufficient discussion devoted to them and the impact that they had on the outcomes of the project. Initial findings indicate that ethnographic methods are a valuable weapon to have in one’s arsenal when carrying out research into human factors of SE.


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Correspondence to J. S. Karn.

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Karn, J.S., Cowling, A.J. Using ethnographic methods to carry out human factors research in software engineering. Behavior Research Methods 38, 495–503 (2006).

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  • Software Engineering
  • Ordinal Scale
  • Personality Type
  • External Impact
  • Ethnographic Method