Investigating the Social Representations of the Identification of Code Smells by Practitioners and Students from Brazil
Context: The identification of code smells is one of the most subjective tasks in software engineering. A key reason is the influence of collective aspects of communities working on this task, such as their beliefs regarding the relevance of certain smells. However, collective aspects are often neglected in the context of smell identification. For this purpose, we can use the social representations theory. Social representations comprise the set of values, behaviors, and practices of communities associated with a social object, such as the task of identifying smells. Aim: To characterize the social representations behind smell identification. Method: We conducted an empirical study on the social representations of smell identification by two communities. One community is composed of postgraduate students from different Brazilian universities. The other community is composed of practitioners located in Brazilian companies, having different levels of experience in code reviews. We analyzed the associations made by the study participants about smell identification, i.e., what immediately comes to their minds when they think about this task. Results: One of the key findings is that the community of students and practitioners have stronger associations with different types of code smells. Students share a strong belief that smell identification is a matter of measurement, while practitioners focus on the structure of the source code and its semantics. Besides, we found that only practitioners frequently associate the task with individual skills. This finding suggests research directions on code smells may be revisited. Conclusion: We found evidence that social representations theory allows identifying research gaps and opportunities by looking beyond the borders of formal knowledge and individual opinions. Therefore, this theory can be considered an important resource for conducting qualitative studies in software engineering.
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