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Seminar: From Barriers to Bridges: Designing Infrastructures for Help in Online Programming Communities



Denae Ford

Ph.D. Candidate, North Carolina State University

Wednesday, February 27
11:00am - 12:15pm
655 McBryde


Online programming communities, like Stack Overflow, have norms that are not obvious nor inclusive to the 50 million programmers visiting monthly. For example, many novices ask questions that go unanswered or downvoted for not conforming to unwritten community norms.  In this talk, I will present my findings from two research projects: 1) a framework of challenges users face when engaging in these communities and 2) a formative-feedback design intervention based on this framework that improved participation and acclimates users to on-site cultural norms. We find that challenges, such as a fear of negative feedback and intimidating community size, can dissuade programmers, especially novices and women, from participating in the community and forging on to become experienced contributors. To determine how to increase participation, we apply theory from a guided mentorship. In our approach, we find that mentored questions are substantially improved over non-mentored questions, with average scores increasing by 50%. These results suggest how we can challenge socio-technical communities to recreate onboarding experiences across domains to increase participation.


Denae Ford Robinson is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Computer Science at North Carolina State University. Her research identifies cognitive and social barriers to participation in online socio-technical ecosystems. A few of these ecosystems include remote technical interviews, technical Q&A communities, and distributed coding platforms using biometric sensing of eye movements and nonverbal cues. Her most recent work dismantles barriers to participation taking advantage of identity deployment, peer parity, and community mentorship.

During her time at North Carolina State University, she has collaborated with researchers from MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Facebook Research, Microsoft Research, Stack Exchange and others. These collaborations have resulted in ACM and IEEE publications which have been presented at international conferences in software engineering (FSE, ICSE) and human-computer interaction(CHI, CSCW). Ford Robinson is also a recipient of the National GEM Consortium Fellowship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellowship.