What do elite software developers do in software projects?


Image by Jose B. Garcia Fernandez from Pixabay

A while back I read an article in ZDNet about Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, and his daily work. He was (at the time of reading, which is ca. 2 years back) still working on the code. However, he was mostly working on the design of the system, reviewing patches and supporting younger designers. I’ve also read a number of articles which claimed the importance of code reviews as a way of teaching younger designers about the product and the code base.

In this paper, I’ve found that the support for younger designers is what the elite developers do a lot of. It seems that the communication, organisation and support are the activities that the elite developers find important. It’s aligned with what we do at the universities as well. The most elite professors work with students, show them how to program and how to structure their code. Seems like this is a very good way of continuing your career – help other be better.

I guess it’s time to change my wallpaper from “coding” to “teaching”….

Abstract: Open source developers, particularly the elite developers who own the administrative privileges for a project, maintain a diverse portfolio of contributing activities. They not only commit source code but also exert significant efforts on other communicative, organizational, and supportive activities. However, almost all prior research focuses on specific activities and fails to analyze elite developers’ activities in a comprehensive way. To bridge this gap, we conduct an empirical study with fine-grained event data from 20 large open source projects hosted on GITHUB. We investigate elite developers’ contributing activities and their impacts on project outcomes. Our analyses reveal three key findings: (1) elite developers participate in a variety of activities, of which technical contributions (e.g., coding) only account for a small proportion; (2) as the project grows, elite developers tend to put more effort into supportive and communicative activities and less effort into coding; and (3) elite developers’ efforts in nontechnical activities are negatively correlated with the project’s outcomes in terms of productivity and quality in general, except for a positive correlation with the bug fix rate (a quality indicator). These results provide an integrated view of elite developers’ activities and can inform an individual’s decision making about effort allocation, which could lead to improved project outcomes. The results also provide implications for supporting these elite developers.