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McMillan Receives NSF Career Award

M. D. McNally • DATE: March 8, 2015

Collin McMillan, an assistant professor in Notre Dame’s Computer Science and Engineering department, has received the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.  This award supports the recipient’s research for five years, and is a prestigious recognition of potential in untenured faculty.

Dr. McMillan’s work targets the “concept assignment problem” in program comprehension – the process through which software programmers understand and modify the behavior of software systems, and in particular the role of software documentation in this process.  His scientific objective is 1) to create a model of program comprehension for how software development professionals write software documentation, and 2) to use this model to design algorithms to automate the process of writing documentation. The process of writing documentation is a major expense in software development projects, and is often neglected. By automating key components of the process, Dr. McMillan’s research helps programmers to avoid this expense and therefore to be more productive.

His CAREER project is titled “Understanding Program Comprehension for Automated Software Documentation Generation.”  The project studies the process that programmers follow when reading source code to write documentation. Then, the project proposes algorithms to mimic that process. These algorithms are integrated with novel natural language generation systems to create descriptions of software behavior. These descriptions are then integrated into documentation of the source code. A key broader impact of this project is to increase the workforce participation of persons with visual disabilities. First, the descriptions generated by the research can be used in accessibility technologies for blind programmers, to help those programmers read source code. Second, an outreach program to state K-12 schools for the blind and visually impaired helps prepare students in these schools prepare for a career in the software development industry.

Dr. McMillan joined Notre Dame in 2012 after completing his Ph.D. at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.