Erik Trainer Defends Dissertation

CRADL Lab member Erik Trainer has successfully defended his dissertation: Supporting the Development of Trust in Globally Distributed Software Teams with a Tool. Congratulations Erik!

Abstract:  Trust plays an important role in collaborations because it creates an environment in which people can openly exchange ideas and information with one another and engineer innovative solutions together with less perceived risk. The rise in globally distributed software development has created an environment in which workers are likely to have less information and lower quality information about their remote colleagues. As such, the likelihood of coordination breakdowns increases.  Observers of a breakdown are more likely to erroneously attribute the cause to personal characteristics (dispositional attributions) of the persons involved, rather than characteristics of the situation (situational attributions).  Data collected from globally distributed software teams show that such breakdowns can negatively impact trust between the parties involved, as well as the perceived quality of the collaboration.
At the same time, software engineering research has resulted in a rich set of tools for globally distributed software developers. These tools support the smooth flow of work across remote sites by visualizing data extracted from projects. They help developers understand changes made to the system, identify experts, determine the availability of their colleagues, and track the activities of developers on whose code they depend.
Synthesizing literature on trust, tools that support awareness of development activities, and visualization, this dissertation asks whether a tool can usefully support the development of trust in globally distributed teams. It presents the design of a tool called Theseus and two evaluations that assess Theseus’ usefulness. In the first evaluation, Theseus’ interface was analyzed using three usability inspection methods. In the second, Theseus was assessed in a laboratory experiment with 28 graduate students and 12 professional software developers.
The results show Theseus is highly usable and that it has a significant effect on distributed developers’ perceived trustworthiness toward others. Participants quickly became immersed in the information the tool provides. In situational conditions, Theseus resulted in higher perceived trustworthiness and more situational attributions than dispositional ones. These results support the overarching hypothesis of this dissertation and open up interesting areas for future research, especially understanding how collaboration tools can potentially shape distributed software developers’ sense of trust toward one another.

Author: Benjamin Koehne

Benjamin Koehne is a Ph.D. Candidate in the department of Informatics at UC Irvine.