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An Empirical Investigation of Opportunistic Programming: Interleaving Web Foraging, Learning, and Writing Code

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Executive Summary

This paper investigates the role of online resources in problem solving. The paper looks specifically at how programmers - an exemplar form of knowledge workers - opportunistically interleave Web foraging, learning, and writing code. The paper describes two studies of how programmers use online resources. The first study, conducted in the lab, found that programmers leverage the Web with three distinct intentions: They engage in just-in-time learning of new skills and approaches, they extend their skills, and they strategically delegate their memory to online resources. The results also suggest that queries for different purposes have different styles and durations. Do query styles robustly vary with intent, or is this result an artifact of the particular lab setting?

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