U Owns the Code That Changes and How Marginal Owners Resolve Issues Slower in Low-Quality Source Code
Markus Borg, Adam Tornhill and Enys Mones
[Context] Accurate time estimation is a critical aspect of predictable software engineering. Previous work shows that low source code quality increases the uncertainty in issue resolution times. [Objective] Our goal is to evaluate how developers’ project experience and file ownership are related to issue resolution times. [Method] We mine 40 proprietary software repositories and conduct an observational study. Using CodeScene, we measure source code quality and active development time connected to Jira issues. [Results] Most source code changes are made by either a marginal or dominant code owner. Also, most changes to low-quality source code are made by developers with low levels of ownership. In low-quality source code, marginal owners need 45% more time for small changes, and 93% more time for large changes. [Conclusions] Collective code ownership is a popular target, but industry practice results in many dominant and marginal owners. Marginal owners are particularly hampered when working with low-quality source code, which leads to productivity losses. In codebases plagued by technical debt, newly onboarded developers will require more time to complete tasks.