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Published July 2018 | Published
Journal Article Open

Software search is not a science, even among scientists: A survey of how scientists and engineers find software


Improved software discovery is a prerequisite for greater software reuse: after all, if someone cannot find software for a particular task, they cannot reuse it. Understanding people's approaches and preferences when they look for software could help improve facilities for software discovery. We surveyed people working in several scientific and engineering fields to better understand their approaches and selection criteria. We found that even among highly-trained people, the rudimentary approaches of relying on general Web searches, the opinions of colleagues, and the literature were still the most commonly used. However, those who were involved in software development differed from nondevelopers in their use of social help sites, software project repositories, software catalogs, and organization-specific mailing lists or forums. For example, software developers in our sample were more likely to search in community sites such as Stack Overflow even when seeking ready-to-run software rather than source code, and likewise, asking colleagues was significantly more important when looking for ready-to-run software. Our survey also provides insight into the criteria that matter most to people when they are searching for ready-to-run software. Finally, our survey also identifies some factors that can prevent people from finding software.

Additional Information

© 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY license.(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Received 29 July 2017, Revised 17 March 2018, Accepted 18 March 2018, Available online 23 March 2018. We thank Alice Allen, Daniel S. Katz, Sarah M. Keating, Matthias König, Allyson Lister, Cristina V. Lopes, Chris Mattmann, Rajiv Ramnath, Renee M. Rottner, Lucian P. Smith, and Linda J. Taddeo for many comments and feedback on previous versions of this manuscript and the survey. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments and challenging questions that ultimately improved the manuscript. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (USA) under Grant Number 1533792. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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