Speaker Series 2020

Dr. Denae Ford Robinson

Senior ResearcherMicrosoft Research

Golden Rules of Building Online Communities that Matter

Online communities for programmers, like Stack Overflow and GitHub, have norms that are not obvious nor inclusive to the 50 million programmers visiting monthly. For example, many novices ask questions that go unanswered or downvoted for not conforming to unwritten community norms. In addition, the most popular online programming communities have reported having below 7% participation from marginalized developers such as women and non-binary people. But how do these norms and demographics shift for developers across the globe? Are their differences in which projects developers decide to contribute to? In this talk, I will 1) offer a perspective of understanding what can inhibit participation, 2) describe what mechanisms developers are using to alleviate their own frustrations with communities, and 3) outline what on-platform mechanisms can intervene to better support engagement based on rigorous research.

Dr. Denae Ford Robinson is a Senior Researcher in the SAINTes group at Microsoft Research where her research lies at the intersection of Human-Computer Interactions and Software Engineering. Her research identifies and dismantles cognitive and social barriers to software developer participation in online socio-technical ecosystems.

She obtained her Ph.D. in Computer Science and a graduate minor in Cognitive Science. She also holds an M.S. and B.S. in Computer Science from North Carolina State University. Throughout her Ph.D. academic career, she has interned and collaborated with research laboratories including MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Microsoft Research, Stack Overflow, and Facebook Research. Her dissertation research creates and applies a framework for dismantling barriers to participation titled “Identity-Based Signals and E-Mentorship to Support Engagement in Online Programming Communities”, which cites her impactful collaboration with Stack Overflow on the Mentorship Program.

Dr. Ford Robinson is also a recipient of the National GEM Consortium Fellowship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellowship. She is also an Affiliate Assistant Professor at the University of Washington. More information about her research and publications can be found at https://denaeford.me.