Microsoft’s new research lab studies developer productivity and well-being

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Microsoft has unveiled a new research initiative designed to “discover, improve, and amplify” developer work and well-being.

Announced at Microsoft’s annual developer-focused Build conference, the new Developer Velocity Lab (DVL) will conduct “socio-technical investigations” spanning productivity, community, and general well-being.

The lab, which will seek input from across Microsoft’s various units, including GitHub, Visual Studio, and Microsoft Research — as well as external contributors — aims to look at new ways to measure and enhance developer productivity; highlight how developers collaborate and share knowledge around software projects; and “investigate the intersections of happiness, satisfaction, and personal value” in relation to software development.

Software company

With software pretty much devouring the world — every company is now a software company, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has often said — improving efficiency within developer teams has become a key focus. GitHub, for example, recently rolled out a bunch of new mobile notification controls to boost developer productivity. Elsewhere, a slew of startups, such as Jellyfish, a platform that aligns engineering work with business objectives, and Tines, which automates repetitive workflows for non-developers, have secured significant funds to enhance the output of their developer teams.

The first paper to emerge from DVL was published in March and titled: “The Space of Developer Productivity: There’s more to it than you think.” Here, researchers from GitHub, Microsoft Research, and the University of Victoria posit that developer productivity can’t be measured by a single metric and extends beyond an “individual’s activity levels or the efficiency of the engineering systems relied on to ship software.”

Microsoft and its GitHub subsidiary have a track record of producing research papers focused on developers, something DVL aims to build on.

“DVL will extend this model by making the research available and accessible to broad audiences — including developers, leaders, enterprises, and OSS (open source software) communities — through additional content, such as short papers, assessments, and videos,” Dr. Nicole Forsgren, GitHub’s VP of research and strategy, told VentureBeat. “We want to get creative so that our research can be easily and quickly usable by many people.”

Open source

Microsoft’s new lab aligns with a number of other recent trends, such as the myriad low-code/no-code platforms that have emerged to democratize software development, as well as the continued growth of open source tech in enterprises and beyond.

Indeed, Microsoft has previously noted that open source is now the accepted model for cross-company collaboration, allowing the tech giants of the world to bypass much of the traditional lawyering in favor of quickly joining forces on projects. DVL’s most recent paper, published this month, looks at the motivations and challenges of contributing to open source software projects for social good.

“In addition to including open source developers and communities as part of our research agenda, DVL embraces an open source ethos,” Forsgren added. “For example, in most cases we will publish in open access journals or open-source our papers, allowing for input from other researchers and organizations to build off of. Additionally, we plan to support and share anonymized, curated datasets in the future as we work toward more open models.”


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