Error Detection and Recovery in Software Development

Lopez, Tamara (2016). Error Detection and Recovery in Software Development. PhD thesis The Open University.



Software rarely works as intended when it is first written. Software engineering research has long been concerned with assessing why software fails and who is to blame, or why a piece of software is flawed and how to prevent such faults in the future. Errors are examined in the context of bugs, elements of source code that produce undesirable, unexpected and unintended deviations in behaviour. Though error is a prevalent, mature topic within software engineering, error detection and recovery are less well understood. This research uses rich qualitative methods to study error detection and recovery in professional software development practice.

It has considered conceptual representations of error in software engineering research and trade literature. Using ethnographic principles, it has gathered accounts given by professional developers in interviews and in video-recorded paired interaction. Developers performing a range of tasks were observed, and findings were compared to theories of human error formed in psychology and safety science.

Three empirical studies investigated error from the perspective of developers, recon- structing the view they hold when errors arise, to build a catalogue of active encounters with error in conceptual design, at the desk and after the fact. Analyses were structured to consider development holistically over time, rather than in terms of discrete tasks. By placing emphasis on “local rationality”, analytical focus was redirected from outcomes toward factors that influence performance. The resultant observations are assembled in an account of error handling in software development as personal and situated (in time and the developer’s environment), with implications for the changing nature of expertise.

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