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Paradise Unplugged: Identifying Barriers for Female Participation on Stack Overflow

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It is no secret that females engage less in programming fields than males. However, in online communities, such as Stack Overflow, this gender gap is even more extreme: only 5.8% of contributors are female. In this paper, we use a mixed-methods approach to identify contribution barriers females face in online communities. Through 22 semi-structured interviews with a spectrum of female users ranging from non-contributors to a top 100 ranked user of all time, we identified 14 barriers preventing them from contributing to Stack Overflow. We then conducted a survey with 1470 female and male developers to confirm which barriers are gender related or general problems for everyone. Females ranked five barriers significantly higher than males. A few of these include doubts in the level of expertise needed to contribute, feeling overwhelmed when competing with a large number of users, and limited awareness of site features. Still, there were other barriers that equally impacted all Stack Overflow users or affected particular groups, such as industry programmers. Finally, we describe several implications that may encourage increased participation in the Stack Overflow community across genders and other demographics.

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Paradise Unplugged: Identifying Barriers for Female Participation on Stack Overflow

  1. 1. PARADISE UNPLUGGED: Denae Ford, Justin Smith, Philip J. Guo, Chris Parnin Identifying Barriers for Female Participation on Stack Overflow
  2. 2. STORYTIME ASHA, THE PROGRAMMER 3/8/2016 New Tab Search Google or type URL 2
  3. 3. TROUBLE IN PARADISE
  4. 4. TROUBLE IN PARADISE “A programmer’s paradise” (Atwood, 2008) 18.5 million developers in world 1 ~32 million visits to SO monthly 2 5.8% v.s. 92.1% 4 2. http://bit.ly/2f4reV31. http://bit.ly/2f0naSo
  5. 5. WHY FEMALES ?! 5
  6. 6. V.S. 20%5% Stack Overflow Software Engineers 6 [David 2008] [USBLS 2016]
  7. 7. 7 TARGET A FEW HELP MANY HI
  8. 8. RESEARCH QUESTIONS RQ1: What barriers do females face when contributing to Stack Overflow? RQ3: How do barriers to contribution vary by gender? 8
  9. 9. RESEARCH QUESTIONS RQ1: What barriers do females face when contributing to Stack Overflow? RQ3: How do barriers to contribution vary by gender? 9
  10. 10. SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS Personal usage of the site How people communicate on the site Personal incentives to using the site 10 22 1 of 22 in “SO Top 100 of All Time”* Interview Topics *http://stackexchange.com/leagues/1/alltime/stackoverflow RQ1: WHAT BARRIERS DO FEMALES FACE WHEN CONTRIBUTING TO SO? STUDENTS PROFESSIONALS LURKERS ACTIVES
  11. 11. METHODOLOGY 11 #B A Barrier is… Stopping them from doing something “….don’t contribute because….” “… don’t post on Stack Overflow because…” ! " # 14
  12. 12. 14 BARRIERS 12
  13. 13. IMPERSONAL INTERACTIONS • Fear of Negative Feedback • Stranger Discomfort • Intimidating Community Size • Posting Is Hard, Friends Are Easy ON-RAMP ROADBLOCKS • Abstraction Process • Time Constraints • Qualifications • Onboarding Hoops • Research Pressure MUDDY LENS PERSPECTIVE • Awareness of Site Features • Nothing Left To Answer • Fear of Contributing to Clutter • No ”Good-Answer” Guarantee • Perception of Slacking 13
  14. 14. 14 BARRIERS Qualifications Stranger Discomfort Perception of Slacking 14
  15. 15. “I don't feel like my expertise [is enough] for me to actually post an answer that would be of any help to anyone else.” P1 QUALIFICATIONS 15 IMPOSTER SYNDROME
  16. 16. “I tend to save the question-asking with people I [know and] feel more comfortable with.’' P7 STRANGER DISCOMFORT 16
  17. 17. “I just don't feel comfortable doing it at work. You're deviating from your actual development tasks. And when the timeline is so tight, I try to get in and out and back to what I'm supposed to be doing.” P21 PERCEPTION OF SLACKING 17
  18. 18. RESEARCH QUESTIONS RQ1: What barriers do females face when contributing to Stack Overflow? RQ3: How do barriers to contribution vary by gender? 18
  19. 19. METHODOLOGY 19 14
  20. 20. SURVEY “How often is this a barrier for you?” 20 134 1336 RQ2: HOW DO BARRIERS TO CONTRIBUTION VARY BY GENDER? 3/8/2016 Stack Overflow Usage Stack Overflow Usage We are researchers conducting a survey on how software developers use the popular Q&A site, Stack Overflow. We appreciate your voluntary help with this research study. Many users on Stack Overflow never contribute to the site -- rarely asking questions, answering questions, making comments, or voting. For those who do contribute, they often compete to gain reputation points, which enables them to unlock more features on the site. Please rate the following possible barriers in the degree that they stop you from contributing more on Stack Overflow. * Required Qualifications * I feel my expertise or answers would not be of any help to anyone else. 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree Stranger Discomfort * I feel uncomfortable interacting with and relying on help from strangers online.
  21. 21. RESULTS: BARRIER RATINGS 21 http://bit.ly/SOBarrierRatings
  22. 22. 22
  23. 23. STACK OVERFLOW OBSERVATIONS Helpful Intentions: Participants want to help, but do not feel like they can based on difficulty finding opportunities to post Language Divide: There are two types of language that contribute to the unwelcoming atmosphere on Stack Overflow: complex questions and idle “boy's club” chatter 23
  24. 24. PROGRAMMERS AGREE WITH BARRIERS 24
  25. 25. HOW COULD WE ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION?! 25 Help ANSWER Questions Help ASK Questions FUTURE WORK
  26. 26. Help ANSWER Questions▸ HELP ANSWER QUESTIONS Ranking algorithm of questions response time per user's skill and question difficulty ▸ Encourages a wider range of users with varied availability [Leano 2016] ▸ HELP ASK QUESTIONS Instead of discouraging users from posting questions, enhance the posting process with feedback on the quality of the question ▸ Put in terms of how fast and how likely it will be answered FUTURE WORK HOW COULD WE ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION?! [Calefato 2015] 26
  27. 27. MAIN TAKEAWAYS 27TWEET BAIT -> STUFF FOR YOU ALL TO TWEET ABOUT ▸ BAD NEWS :( ▸ Paradise has some problems: Barriers exist ACROSS genders, but some significantly hinder females @DenaeFord ▸ GOOD NEWS :) Paradise is not completely lost: We have ideas how to fix them….and we can AUTOMATE them!
  28. 28. http://bit.ly/SOBarriers ▸ BAD NEWS :( ▸ Paradise has some problems: Barriers exist ACROSS genders, but some significantly hinder females ▸ GOOD NEWS :) ▸ Paradise is not completely lost: We have ideas how to fix them….and we can AUTOMATE them! 28 @DenaeFord
  29. 29. ++
  30. 30. HTTPS://GENDEREDINNOVATIONS.STANFORD.EDU/
  31. 31. Is this a real PROBLEM? http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/195520/why-are-there-fewer-female-users-on-stack- overflow

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