Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Computer Science

Advisor 1

Charles Wallace

Committee Member 1

Linda Ott

Committee Member 2

Mary Beth Rosson

Committee Member 3

Janet Burge

Committee Member 4

Lauren Bowen


Some of the greatest challenges in the relatively new field of software development lie in the decidedly old technology of communication between humans. Software projects require sophisticated and varied communication skills because software developers work in a world of incomplete, imperfect information where teams evolve rapidly in response to evolving requirements and changing collaborators. While prescriptive models for software process such as Agile suggest ways of doing, in reality these codified practices must adapt to the complexities of a real workplace. Patterns, rather than rules of behavior within software process are more suitable to the varied and mutable nature of software development. Software development communities are also learning communities, attempting to sustain themselves through internal ambiguity and external changes.

We study different types of software development communities to fulfill our goal of understanding how these communities implement and evolve different communication strategies to sustain themselves through change. We observe student software development projects, open source software development, and a professional, rigorously Agile software development community. We employ Wenger's concept of Community of Practice to frame our understanding, especially focusing on the notions of identity, participation, reification, negotiation of meaning and trajectory of the participants of the software development communities. From these different sources, we identify the emergent themes of mentoring and knowledge management as critical for sustainable communities.

Through our long running, immersive, participant observer, ethnographic study of the Agile software development community, we contribute both a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the their communication practices and depict the evolving nature of their onboarding and mentoring strategies. We share our experience of implementing such an immersive industry ethnographic study. We employ a pattern language approach to capturing, analyzing and representing our results, thereby contributing and relating to the larger bodies of work in Scrum and Organizational Patterns.

This work also informs our concurrent efforts to enhance our undergraduate computer science and software engineering curriculum, exposing students to the communication challenges of real software development and help them to develop skills to meet these challenges through practice in inquiry, critique and reflection.