University of Limerick
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The purposeful adaptation of practice: an empirical study of distributed software development

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posted on 2022-09-01, 14:17 authored by Anders Sigfridsson
This thesis addresses the research question: how do software developers in distributed projects continually develop their practical knowledge through dealing with changing circumstances in daily work practice? The purpose is to complement previous research on knowledge-related issues in distributed software development settings by assuming a practice-based perspective on knowledge and studying knowing as seen in software developers actual everyday activities. This work builds on extensive field studies of a team in a multinational organisation and of an open source community called PyPy. The primary methods utilized were participant observation and grounded theory coding. The thesis provides thick descriptions of the two cases, coupled with vignettes that illustrate how issues of evolving technology, enculturation and socialisation of new members, and emerging project purposes and goals manifested in the settings under study. What is being argued is that the software developers in the studies dealt with changing circumstances through the purposeful adaptation of practice. Evidence is presented that shows how this is an ongoing process of practices adopted to allow for change and change stimulating adjustment of practice. When the software developers do this, there are at least two important concerns: anticipating changing circumstances and alignment of activities. This empirical study thus unveils underlying dynamics of knowledge development that matter for how sharing actually happens in these settings. The temporal dimension of knowledge is emphasised and attention is shifted towards supporting software developers contemplative activities. The findings also opens up for an alternative understanding of what situated means in distributed software development, showing that, as well as locale-specific practices, it may also be understood in terms of professional context and shared enterprise. Further light is also shed on the complexities of distributed software development practice. Distribution is shown as a mundane issue, as something that is dealt with as a collaborative challenge alongside many other issues. With the focus on changing circumstances, a previously unexplored aspect of work in these settings is characterised.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Bannon, Liam J.





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