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Anonymous Code Reviews — A Trial at Google

Google ran a study with 300 software engineers and 5217 code reviews to see if anonymous code reviews could work. The paper is linked below along with a key quote. This idea is intriguing to me because, frankly, it’s not something I would have ever even tried because it seems to present so many obvious issues.

For example, they found that this practice hindered offline conversations and that reviewers could guess who wrote the code, but things that I suspected before ever reading the paper. Their conclusion that this practice reduces power dynamics seems a bit suspect if people can guess who wrote the code, so I think this might only work in larger organizations or in situations where a lot of different people are contributing to a project / folks just don’t know each other that well.

“Our results suggest that during anonymous author code review, reviewers can frequently guess authors identities; that focus is reduced on reviewer-author power dynamics; and that the practice poses a barrier to offline, high-bandwidth conversations. Based on our findings, we recommend that those who choose to implement anonymous author code review should reveal the time zone of the author by default, have a break-the-glass option for revealing author identity, and reveal author identity directly after the review.”

Reflections on cybersecurity research & news, academia, and software engineering. Cybersecurity Researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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