Skip to main content

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

We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.

Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.

Abstract

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.

References

  1. Atkinson, P. (1990).The ethnographic imagination: Textual constructions of reality. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Becker, H. (1993).Problem of inference and proof in participant observation (Reprint ed.). New York: Irvington.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Brooks, F. P. (1975).The mythical man month: Essays on software engineering. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Costa, P. T., &McCrae, R. R. (1992). Four ways, five factors are basic.Personality and Individual Differences,13, 653–665.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cowling, A. J. (1994). A framework for developing the software engineering curriculum.Proceedings of the ACM/IEEE Sponsored International Workshop on Software Engineering Education (pp. 111–118). Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Cowling, A. J. (1997). Curriculum support for professionalism. In C. Myers, T. Hall, & D. Pitt (Eds.),The responsible software engineer: Selected readings in IT professionalism (pp. 285–295). London: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Irving, J. (1989).Crucial decisions: Leadership in policymaking and crisis management (pp. 89–117). New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Janis, I. L. (1982).Victims of groupthink: A psychological study of foreign policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Jung, C. G. (1923).Psychological types (Vol. 6). New York: Harcourt.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Karn, J. S., &Cowling, A. J. (2004a). An initial observational study of the effects of personality type on software engineering teams. InProceedings of the 8th International Conference on Empirical Assessment in Software Engineering (pp. 155–165). Edison, NJ: IET Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Karn, J. S., &Cowling, A. J. (2004b).An initial study of the effect of personality on group projects in software engineering (Research Rep. CS-04-01). Sheffield, U.K.: University of Sheffield, Department of Computer Science.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Karn, J. S., &Cowling, A. J. (2004c).A study into the effect of disruptions on the performance of software engineering teams (Research Rep. CS-04-17). Sheffield, U.K.: University of Sheffield, Department of Computer Science.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Myers, I. B., &Myers, P. B. (1987).Gifts differing: Understanding personality type. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Whyte, W. F. (1984).Learning from the field: A guide from experience. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. S. Karn.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03192804

Download citation

Keywords

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