The use of computer-mediated communication systems by programmers

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Science and Technology


Thomas H. Martin


Computer-mediated communication, Programmers

Subject Categories

Computer Sciences | Library and Information Science | Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Communication behavior of programmers plays an essential role in success of software development. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) systems, such as e-mail or the World Wide Web (WWW), have substantial implications for managing and coordinating work of programmers. Yet, no studies have dealt exclusively with CMC behaviors of programmers. Drawing upon theories in organizational studies, information science, computer-mediated communication and software engineering, this research examines (1) the purposes for which programmers use CMC systems, (2) the extent to which task characteristics, attributes of CMC systems, individual differences, social norms, and accessibility predict the purposes for using CMC systems and (3) the extent to which these purposes relate to receptivity of programmers toward sharing code and toward acquiring user feedback. Data were gathered from survey questionnaires mailed to 730 programmers, who are members of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and are involved in a variety of work including designing, coding, testing or maintaining computer programs.

Based on factor analyses, regression and correlation analyses, the study found that programmers use CMC systems (1) to achieve progress in work-related tasks (i.e., task-related purposes), (2) to satisfy their social and emotional needs (i.e., socio-emotional purposes), and (3) to explore for information (i.e., exploring purposes). Further, these three purposes were significantly predicted, albeit to varying degrees, by task characteristics, attributes of CMC systems, individual differences, social norms, and accessibility. Receptivity of programmers toward sharing code was correlated with their use of CMC systems for task-related purposes, only among those whose work involves actual code reviews. Finally, receptivity of programmers toward acquiring user feedback was found (1) positively associated with their task-related use of CMC systems and (2) negatively associated with their exploring use.

The findings of this research extend understanding of how programmers use CMC systems. They advance theories of computer-mediated communication as well as those of information use in the context of programmers. Also, practitioners, especially in software development, may use the results as guidelines in fostering communication practices that fit with what programming staff expect to accomplish through the use of CMC systems.


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