Google Research

Engineering Impacts of Anonymous Author Code Review: A Field Experiment

Transactions on Software Engineering (2021)

Abstract

Code review is a powerful technique to ensure high quality software and spread knowledge of best coding practices between engineers. Unfortunately, code reviewers may have biases about authors of the code they are reviewing, which can lead to inequitable experiences and outcomes. In this paper, we describe a field experiment with anonymous author code review, where we withheld author identity information during 5217 code reviews from 300 professional software engineers at one company. Our results suggest that during anonymous author code review, reviewers can frequently guess authors’ identities; that focus is reduced on reviewer-author power dynamics; and that the practice poses a barrier to offline, high-bandwidth conversations. Based on our findings, we recommend that those who choose to implement anonymous author code review should reveal the time zone of the author by default, have a break-the-glass option for revealing author identity, and reveal author identity directly after the review.

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