Broadening what Core CS Looks At: People of ACM – Margaret Burnett
Margaret is a remarkable researcher whose work has influenced that of me and my students. Her interview linked below is worth reading. It’s the particular point I quote below that connects to ideas that I’ve been introduced to lately.
I’ve been working with a group that’s developing a proposal that will get reviewed across NSF CS, and it’s been eye-opening and a bit depressing. I’ve learned that “core CS” researchers (e.g., programming languages, theory, systems, software engineering) don’t see much value in computing education research. Margaret below is talking about the interaction between software engineering and end-user programming researchers. One perspective I have now heard is that “core CS” faculty don’t believe end-user programmers exist, and if they do exist, the faculty wish they didn’t because they’ll write cruddy code (a perspective I have heard before). People whom I trust have significant insight into NSF reviewers across CS have told me that talking about “diversity” will turn off “core CS” reviewers. Much of what I do can’t be part of the proposal.
I didn’t realize my CS Ed “bubble” — I’m in a School of Interactive Computing, and my proposals are mostly reviewed as ed research. Margaret has explicitly been working at building bridges across communities.
End-user software engineering (EUSE) is important not only because of the number of people it impacts—end-user developers outnumber professional developers by an order of magnitude—but also because it can bring useful ideas back to traditional software engineering. EUSE is about technologies that collaborate with end users engaging in aspects of software development to improve the quality of the software they shape, using programming devices like spreadsheet formulas, macros by demonstration, setting configurations, and adding customizations. Thus, EUSE approaches do not attempt to impose work practices on end-user developers; rather, they attempt to blend in seamlessly with their existing work practices.
Looking toward the future, EUSE research is at a crossroads. Aligning its work too closely to the classic software engineering lifecycle raises a risk of over-siloing the area, restricting future EUSE researchers’ vision of what can be achieved. By a silo, I mean a system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others. Silos raise the risk that an area can become overly narrow, and in doing so, become disconnected from the way users really work. One strategy that can help researchers guard against such siloing is to focus on intents of end-user developers (e.g., “update my spreadsheet to meet my company’s standards”) instead of lifecycle stages (e.g., a requirements engineering tool for spreadsheets). Guarding against overly siloed thinking by incorporating more user-intent thinking can open the door to big gains that are cross-cutting and impactful, for both EUSE and for software engineering in general.
Source: People of ACM – Margaret Burnett
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