Raj Chetty and John Friedman (Harvard), and Jonah Rockoff (Columbia) recently published a study showing how much long-term impact teachers have on students. To make a long story short, the answer is “a lot”, and that impact persists long after the child leaves the classroom. As far as I know, no-one has ever done something similar for programmers, i.e., looked at the long-term impact a particular software developer has on a project (for either good or ill). I think the hardest part would be developing a measure of one person’s impact on software; like all metrics, what you’d get out could all too easily be determined primarily by what assumptions you baked in.
But this example raises a broader question that we’d like to throw out to the whole community. What studies have you seen in other areas that you’d like to see replicated in software development? For example, Evan Robinson’s classic article “Why Crunch Mode Doesn’t Work” does a great job of summarizing research on the effects of sleep deprivation on productivity. None of those studies specifically looked at programmers; I suspect that one that did would be read and cited a lot. What other analyses would you like empirical software engineering researchers to transfer to our domain?