We Don’t Need Another Hero? The Impact of ‘Heroes’ on Software Development

Amritanshu Agrawal, Akond Rahman, Rahul Krishna, Alexander Sobran and Tim Menzies in International Conference for Software Engineering (ICSE), 2018 Pre-print

A software project has ‘Hero Developers’ when 80% of contributions are delivered by 20% of the developers. Are such heroes a good idea? Are too many heroes bad for software quality? Is it better to have more/less heroes for different kinds of projects? To answer these questions, we studied 661 open source projects from Public open source software (OSS) Github and 171 projects from an Enterprise Github. We find that hero projects are very common. In fact, as projects grow in size, nearly all project become hero projects. These findings motivated us to look more closely at the effects of heroes on software development. Analysis shows that the frequency to close issues and bugs are not significantly affected by the presence of project type (Public or Enterprise). Similarly, the time needed to resolve an issue/bug/enhancement is not affected by heroes or project type. This is a surprising result since, before looking at the data, we expected that increasing heroes on a project will slow down howfast that project reacts to change. However, we do find a statistically significant association between heroes, project types, and enhancement resolution rates. Heroes do not affect enhancement resolution rates in Public projects. However, in Enterprise projects, the more heroes increase the rate at which project complete enhancements. In summary, our empirical results call for a revision of a long-held truism in software engineering. Software heroes are far more common and valuable than suggested by the literature, particularly for medium to large Enterprise developments. Organizations should reflect on better ways to find and retain more of these heroes