for several years on the same project.
In practice, there may be a long-term
research thread, but research contributions do not necessarily belong to
an explicit project.
There is a potential value for both,
practice and research, if we have more
active “small” researchers-practitioners. With declining numbers of research positions in academia2 we have
increasing numbers of research-capa-ble people entering small companies.
Practice is rich and still hugely unexplored area, and researchers-practitioners may be in unique positions to
witness or make important discoveries
in many areas of computing. However,
there are a number of barriers and
challenges that “small” practitioners-researchers face. Practice needs to become more aware about the value of
applying research rigor and discipline,
and the research community must be
more open for attempts of “small” re-searcher-practitioners to join them as
equals. Educational institutions also
need to think about how to educate
researchers-practitioners, rather than
researchers or practitioners. It also requires more continued efforts of small
researchers-practitioners to do high-quality research, contribute to the research community, and call attention
to their problems.
1. bourne, S. and Cantrill, b. Communications and the
practitioner. Commun. ACM 52, 8 (aug. 2009), 5.
2. briand, l. embracing the engineering side of software
engineering. IEEE Software 29, 4 (July–aug. 2012),
3. glass, r.l. one man’s quest for the state of software
engineering’s practice. Commun. ACM 50, 5 (may
4. hardman l., obrenovic, Z., and nack, f., guest eds.
Special issue of ACM Multimedia Systems Journal on
canonical processes of media production 14, 6 (Dec.
5. norman, D.a. the research-practice gap: the need
for translational developers. interactions 17, 4 (July
6. obrenović, Ž. Design-based research: what we learn
when we engage in design of interactive systems.
interactions 18, 5 (Sept. 2011), 56–59.
7. obrenović, Ž. and den haak, b. Integrating end-user
customization and authentication: the identity crisis.
IEEE Security and Privacy 10, 5 (Sept./oct. 2012),
8. Spector a., norvig, P., and Petrov, S. google’s hybrid
approach to research. Commun. ACM 55, 7 (July
9. Stolterman e. the nature of design practice and
implications for interaction design research.
International Journal of Design (IJDesign) 2, 1 (2008).
Željko Obrenović ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a technical
consultant with the Software Improvement group in
amsterdam, the netherlands.
Copyright held by owner/author(s).
also have more difficulties attracting
high-quality employees, and I received
unexpected encouragement to actively participate in conferences from the
Human Resources (HR) department.
The HR department elaborated that
such activities can help the company
to demonstrate the quality of its work
and its people, both to potential new
clients and employees.
Doing research outside universities
or big companies, even when conducted with rigor and discipline,
comes with a number of challenges.
Finding time and resources for research in small companies is always
challenging. And practice does not always recognize the value of research
contributions. It may require significant time and effort to convince relevant people in your company of the
potential value of doing research.
Practice also needs to understand
that it is not enough to simply relabel “development” as “research,” and
that research cannot be done properly without individuals who are disciplined and objective enough to conduct it with scientific rigor.
Less obviously, and contrary to
the recent trend of openness for “the
voice of practice,” a small researcher-
practitioner may face even bigger bar-
riers from the research community.
Research work is difficult and incom-
plete if a researcher is not a part of a
community of researchers. However,
for researchers-practitioners com-
ing from smaller or less-known com-
panies, it may be difficult to become
a part of such a community. First, it
may be difficult to find a venue open
for contributions of the practitioners.
Reviewers also may be biased toward
more academic contributions and
methods. When you try to submit
some of your work for publication in
places that seem to promote strong
practice orientation, you may find
many of them are not open for your
contributions. For example, the Com-
munications Practice section publish-
es articles “by invitation only.” Simi-
larly, ACM Queue reviews articles only
from authors who have been “specifi-
cally invited to submit manuscripts.”
This makes it practically impossible
for people outside a relatively small
group of elite practitioners to even try
to contribute regardless of the quality
of their contribution.
Another barrier from the academic
side comes from stereotypes about
the research process. When working
for my previous company, I tried to
join the ResearchGate, as several of
my papers have been uploaded there
by other co-authors. However, when
trying to register with my company
email address, I received the following
email message: “We’ve reviewed your
request and regret to inform you that
we cannot approve your ResearchGate
account at present. As ResearchGate
is a network intended for scientific
and academic exchange, we ask that
you sign up with an email address
affiliated with your institution (e.g.,
university, organization, or company)
or provide us with details of your inde-
pendent research (e.g., research disci-
pline and current project).”
My email address was affiliated
with my institution (a company), in an
obvious way (my name at my company
domain). However, it seems a company
is considered a research organization
only if it is a well-known institution,
and with a separate research department (for example, Google Labs, Microsoft Research, Yahoo Research,
Philips Research…). This anecdote
points to a problem of researchers
from smaller companies who may be
discriminated in their attempts to become part of the research community,
and may have difficulties passing the
threshold of being considered worthy
of belonging to the research community. Also the notion of a research project seems to be closer to the academic
environment where researchers work
need to think about
how to educate