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InfoQ Homepage News GitHub Study Explores What Makes Developers Have a Good Day

GitHub Study Explores What Makes Developers Have a Good Day

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GitHub researchers released the results of a survey aimed at investigating what helps developers have good days. InfoQ has taken the chance to speak with Dr. Eirini Kalliamvakou, senior researcher at GitHub & member of the Developer Velocity Lab.

GitHub's study highlights two key factors that may negatively affect how developers see their days, namely interruptions and meetings. Furthermore, the sheer amount of code-work done is not necessarily an indicator of developers' feelings.

With minimal or no interruptions, developers had an 82% chance of having a good day, but when developers were interrupted the majority of the day, their chances of having a good day dropped to just 7%.

Speaking of meetings, the results are even more striking. Indeed, developers who had just one meeting per day had a 99% chance of having a good day, while adding a second meeting made that chance drop to 74%. But only 14% of developers who had three meetings per day felt they made progress towards their goal.

Thus, GitHub's study clearly suggests to manage meetings and interruptions to get developers' sense of satisfaction under control. This is hardly a surprising result for many organizations, but GitHub's study provides solid evidence for this to be the case on a more structural level.

Another great finding in GitHub's study, and one that may sound novel to many, is that most developers found out that devoting a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect on their work helped them to get a better sense of their work day.

Noting key activities and how they felt about the day helped developers “close out” their day and gain insight. In other words, this small moment has a big impact for those of us wanting to pause and reflect on our days and work.

InfoQ has taken the chance to speak with Dr. Eirini Kalliamvakou, senior researcher at GitHub & member of the Developer Velocity Lab, to learn more about this study and its relation to the GitHub SPACE framework.

InfoQ: One of the ideas that your study reinforces is that productivity is personal. What is the importance of realizing this? How could it be taken into account?

Eirini Kalliamvakou: This is one of my favorite findings because it really speaks to our uniqueness as humans! In our study, we saw developers with patterns of days that were almost opposite. When these devs saw their personalized report they were able to spot what to improve. But when we take an average, those personally useful insights disappear and the conclusion doesn’t help (or “fit”) either person. We saw that individual level insights have the highest value for developers. While there is no shortage of productivity tips and hacks, the best chance for devs to make their days better is when the adjustments are tailored to their own data and patterns.

This comes into play when we think of developers as part of their teams in team-level metrics. Some personal improvement strategies may prompt adjustments to team practices in order to succeed. Is there, for example, room to shift the time of a team meeting to preserve folks’ focus time? The productivity of the individual developer and the team may benefit from such discussions and changes.

InfoQ: Daily reflections appear to be a powerful tool to help developers feel better about their days. What did your study reveal about how to better introduce a “daily reflection program” in an organization? Do you think they should replace Agile morning meetings?

Kalliamvakou: The format we used in the study was a two-minute prompt at the end of the day, asking a few key questions about how the day went. (These questions can be found in our blog post). Developers loved the format and were happy to use it as a way to “close out” their day. Many of the developers in the study even continued the daily reflection after the study ended!

Standups have their own special place in teams’ daily rituals and we know some teams experiment with bots, for example. In interviews, developers shared that when using standup bots they prefer to be pinged at the end of the day and list what they accomplished, rather than be pinged at the start of the day and list what they plan to do. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s a question of finding the right combination that helps each team have the awareness it needs (which standups bring!) and the feel-good closing of a day seeing all that was done.

InfoQ: You mention you used a combination of Slack channels and private repositories as a tool to collect developers feedback while respecting their privacy. Could you provide some additional details about this?

Kalliamvakou: We partnered with the Office of the CTO to create a proof-of-concept internal Slack app that prompts Hubbers daily to answer the questions, and delivers charts and data to them weekly. As part of the sign up flow to use it, the app creates a private repository in a developer’s GitHub account where it stores all the data and reports. It’s a very interesting way to store the data privately and give each developer (and only them) full control of their information.

InfoQ: How does this study fit into the broader work you are carrying out with the SPACE framework?

Kalliamvakou: The Good Day project is really the first implementation of the SPACE framework. We designed the questions included in the daily self-reflection to cover each dimension of the SPACE framework. From the reactions and results, we see that the SPACE dimensions and the way we created the questions resonate with how developers describe their days and what areas of their work they can adjust once they see their patterns.

There is much more to GitHub's Good Day Study than what can be summarized here, so make sure to read the report to get the full details.

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