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Monday 19 December 2022 9:50am

Daniel Alencar da Costa sitting on a bench outside next to a coffee truck
Dr Daniel Alencar da Costa

Delving into the data traces left behind by software developers when they are producing a computer programme, or even a phone app, is providing Information Science lecturer and researcher Dr Daniel Alencar da Costa with a rich source of information to help those developers improve their products.

“Data science allows us to use this data to study patterns that might be useful,” he says.

As part of the software development process, every time a developer puts in a new piece of code they automatically create a log of the changes they perform. Alencar da Costa examines those data and looks to create insights for them.

“What I try to do is analyse the data traces they leave, using statistics or even machine learning, and try to predict where these defects are going to happen. So, instead of developers delivering software with defects, they can use these predictions and say 'oh, most likely we're going to have defects here, so let's test this part more and fix these defects before we deliver to the customer',” he says.

Alencar da Costa uses the analogy of the post-game analysis used in many top sports, where coaches examine all the athletes' actions, down to the most minute detail, to help improve their strategy for future games.

“That's basically what I do for developers. They are a sports team and I look into their traces and check how they can improve their performance or software development.”

Originally from Belém, a capital near the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, Alencar da Costa studied in Brazil and Canada, before coming to Otago in 2019.

“I found the opportunity in Otago in a job listing while on my postdoctoral fellowship in Canada (Kingston, Ontario). I had always been curious about New Zealand, especially having known about its natural beauty. I fell in love with Dunedin when I came for the on- campus interview.”

He says his field offers plenty of room for creative contributions.

“For example, when you read a book, watch a movie or play a game, all these things are set – you cannot change or customise them. Being a researcher gives me the opportunity to create, customise or change existing solutions.

“You never know how a software will look until developers and designers start to prototype and develop it. Then, based on clients' feedback, the software keeps changing and evolving. The opportunity to improve this creative process through my research is what excites me.”

Alongside his research, he is the coordinator of the Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) curriculum development committee and the coordinator of the Pervasive Game Development paper. He also teaches papers related to software engineering and programming, and information assurance and security.

Recent awards

  • Best Emerging Researcher, Otago Business School (2019)
  • Queen's University Postdoc Travel Award (2018)
  • ACM/SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award (2016)
  • Brazilian Science Without Borders Scholarship (2014)

More stories about early career researchers

This story is part of the research publication 'He Kitenga 2022: Talented Futures', which presents the different pathways into research that early career researchers follow.

Read more 'He Kitenga 2022' research stories

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