The first peer-reviewed paper Christopher Scaffidi wrote 10 years ago has just been named the Most Influential Paper at the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing, (VL/HCC) in Melbourne, Australia, July 28-Aug 1.

Chris Scaffidi and Brad Meyers accept award.
Chris Scaffidi (center) and Brad Meyers (left) accept the Most Influential Paper award.

“It’s surprising because my first attempt at something usually isn’t my best …but this paper won the award because it helps to establish the scope of impact for a research area,” said Scaffidi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Oregon State University.

The research area the paper impacts is end-user programming — a type of programming such as website or spreadsheet authoring that is performed by people who are not trained programmers. The 2005 paper, “Estimating the Number of End-Users and End-User Programmers,” predicted that 90 million end users would be in American workplaces by 2012, and that 55 million of those would potentially be programming spreadsheets and databases. They also predicted that 13 million end users would describe themselves as programmers, which far exceeds an estimated 3 million professional programmers.

“Those were astonishing numbers, which, along with the detailed analyses presented in the paper, has resulted in this paper being highly cited, and highly influential in getting more researchers to focus on this class of programmers, which generally has received little attention,” said Brad Meyers, Scaffidi’s co-author and professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Scaffidi started the research as a first-year graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University with his other co-author and advisor, Mary Shaw, when he became intrigued by an often cited, but unsupported estimate of the number of end-user programmers.

Beyond estimating the number of end-user programmers, Scaffidi made predictions based on his method and validated the results with real data from 2001 and 2003.

Scaffidi said the importance of the paper is that is highlights an area of research that is becoming more critical in our society. The research aims to make end-user programming easier and more accessible to a broader range of people.

“I really think end-user programming is absolutely essential for the health of a middle class workforce. There are lots of jobs which are being automated away and being given to intelligent software or robots, and end-user programming gives people a way to be more secure in their jobs — they are the automators, not the automated,” Scaffidi said.

–by Rachel Robertson

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