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What Improves Developer Productivity at Google? Code Quality.

Lan Cheng
Emerson Rex Murphy-Hill
Collin Green
Andrea Marie Knight Dolan
Nan Zhang
Elizabeth Kammer
Foundations of Software Engineering: Industry Paper (2022)

Abstract

Understanding what affects software developer productivity can help organizations choose wise investments in their technical and social environment. But the research literature either focuses on what correlates with developer productivity in realistic settings or focuses on what causes developer productivity in highly constrained settings. In this paper, we bridge the gap by studying software developers at Google through two analyses. In the first analysis, we use panel data to understand which of 39 productivity factors affect perceived developer productivity, finding that code quality, tech debt, infrastructure tools and support, team communication, goals and priorities, and organizational change and process are all causally linked to developer productivity. In the second analysis, we use a lagged panel analysis to strengthen our causal claims. We find that increases in perceived code quality tend to be followed by increased developer productivity, but not vice versa, providing the strongest evidence to date that code quality affects individual developer productivity.

Research Areas