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Communications of the ACM


Refining Students' Coding and Reviewing Skills
June 19, 2014

Code reviews ( are essential in professional software development. When I worked at Google, every line of code I wrote had to be reviewed by several experienced colleagues before getting committed into the central code repository. The primary stated benefit of code review in industry is improving software quality (, but an important secondary benefit is education. Code reviews teach programmers how to write elegant and idiomatic code using a particular language, library, or framework within their given organization. They provide experts with a channel to pass their domain-specific knowledge onto novices; knowledge that cannot easily be captured in a textbook or instruction manual.

Since I have now returned to academia, I have been thinking a lot about how to adapt best practices from industry ( into my research and teaching. I have been spending the past year as a postdoc ( in Rob Miller's ( group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL, and witnessed him deploying some ideas along these lines. For instance, one of his research group's projects, Caesar (, scales up code review to classes of a few hundred students.


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