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Sociological and technical difficulties, such as a lack of informal encounters, can make it difficult for new members of noncollocated software development teams to learn from their more experienced colleagues. To address this situation, we have developed a tool, named Hipikat that provides developers with efficient and effective access to the group memory for a software development project that is implicitly formed by all of the artifacts produced during the development. This project memory is built automatically with little or no change to existing work practices. After describing the Hipikat tool, we present two studies investigating Hipikat's usefulness in software modification tasks. One study evaluated the usefulness of Hipikat's recommendations on a sample of 20 modification tasks performed on the Eclipse Java IDE during the development of release 2.1 of the Eclipse software. We describe the study, present quantitative measures of Hipikat's performance, and describe in detail three cases that illustrate a range of issues that we have identified in the results. In the other study, we evaluated whether software developers who are new to a project can benefit from the artifacts that Hipikat recommends from the project memory. We describe the study, present qualitative observations, and suggest implications of using project memory as a learning aid for project newcomers.
Date of Publication: June 2005