The perceived race and ethnicity of a software based on their name online may determine how their open-source software projects are judge online, researchers have found.
The quality of a coder’s contributions can be evaluated by others on GitHub, an online platform for software developers. Discussions are online, and users only see the name of a contributor. They talk about open-source software development and discuss their projects through pull requests, the system on GitHub to propose and collaborate on changes in a software repository.
“A developer’s contributions to an open-source software project are accepted or rejected for a variety of technical reasons, but our analysis of tens of thousands of projects on GitHub shows that contributions can be accepted or rejected because of other factors,” notes University of Waterloo’s Cheriton School of Computer Science professor Mei Nagappan.
“We found that one of them is the perceived race and ethnicity of a developer based on the person’s name on the platform,” Nagappan says.
He led a research team that conducted an analysis of GitHub projects, examining more than two million pull requests across more than 37,700 open-source projects involving nearly 366,000 developers.
Researchers studied the race and ethnicity of developers based on their GitHub names using a tool called NamePrism that determines what is the likely perceived race and ethnicity by others and what they think when they see a name.
They found that 70% of the contributions that were integrated into an open-source software project were submitted by developers perceptible as white.
Developers who were perceptible as Asian, Hispanic, and Black had less than 10% of the contributions in total that were accepted to open-source software projects.
“This low percentage is concerning because it does not reflect the percentage of developers among these groups in the larger tech community,” Nagappan laments.
The researchers also found that the odds of a contribution being accepted by GitHub project integrators was lower from developers who are perceptibly not white.
“Perceptible Hispanic and Asian developers had six to 10% lower odds of getting their pull requests accepted compared with perceptible white submitters,” explains postdoctoral researcher Gema Rodríguez-Pérez. “We need to identify the problems, understand why the problems exist, and determine what interventions can help reduce and eliminate bias.”
The paper, On the Relationship Between the Developer’s Perceptible Race and Ethnicity and the Evaluation of Contributions in OSS, authored by Rodríguez-Pérez, Reza Nadri and Nagappan, was recently published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering.