Whatever Happened to Empirical Studies of Programmers?

by Alan Blackwell

Those familiar with PPIG would probably have heard of the Empirical Studies of Programmers (ESP) series of workshops. The following brief history was written in response to a query on the PPIG mailing list, asking whatever happened to ESP.

The ESP series was managed by the USA-based Empirical Studies of Programmers Foundation. The last published list of the Board of Directors of that Foundation (in 1997) was Deborah Boehm-Davis, Wayne Gray, Thomas Moher, Jean Scholtz and James Spohrer.

There were seven ESP conferences, all held in the USA. The research coverage of the series was very similar to the European (UK-based) PPIG series, which is the host organisation for this newsletter. Many people considered ESP and PPIG to be sister organisations. All ESP conferences except ESP 3 published formal proceedings volumes. Until ESP 6, the publisher of those proceedings was Ablex. The proceedings of ESP 7 in 1997 was published by the ACM Press. An attempt was made to convene an ESP 8 meeting that would have been held in 1999, although insufficient submissions were received for the meeting to be viable. The papers received were instead published as a special issue of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (Volume 54, Number 2, published February 2001).

Because many Americans find it difficult to attend meetings in Europe, especially if they publish in ways that fall below the tenure horizon, several of us PPIG folk have wished to support a continued sister series like ESP.

The most recent approach to this has been to create symposia within the IEEE Human-Centric Computing series that would focus on empirical studies of programming issues. The names of these these symposia (in 2001, 2002 and 2003) have tended to focus on end-user programming and usability. Nevertheless, it seems that the IEEE series comes closest to taking the mantle of ESP nowadays. It now meets under the name "Visual Languages and Human Centric Computing" (VL/HCC), and proceedings are published by the IEEE.

The next meeting of VL/HCC will in fact be in the UK (for the first time), and co-located with PPIG, in order that Americans can attend both events. This will certainly be the best opportunity within the next year to meet those people who would once have attended the ESP meetings.

Alan Blackwell is a senior lecturer in computing at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a regular PPIG contributor.