A new study that used AI to analyze 2M+ contributions by ~365K developers on GitHub finds users with white-sounding names may have more success on the platform

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According to a newly released study, software professionals with names that seem white may succeed on GitHub more than developers whose names are viewed as Black, Hispanic, or Asian-Pacific Islander.

The results, which were earlier this year published in IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, highlight significant issues regarding the effects of a lack of diversity on GitHub and in the open-source software community at large.

Over 2 million contributions, or “pull requests,” made by 365,607 developers were examined by University of Waterloo researchers. The researchers discovered that being regarded as white on GitHub often boosts a developer’s chances of getting their ideas approved. This finding was made using an AI technique called NamePrism that examines people’s names for their perceived race and ethnicity. It raises those probabilities by 6 to 10% compared to developers who are seen as Hispanic or Asian-Pacific Islander.

“This is the only location where a true meritocracy could theoretically exist. There is no human presence in open-source software. You probably haven’t encountered them or formed an impression of them. You at least recognise their name “Mei Nagappan, a co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, stated.

Given the impact open-source communities like GitHub have on product development, it is alarming that racial bias may still persist in this setting, according to Nagappan. Software will be created by and for a fairly homogeneous people if we don’t pay attention to other viewpoints, he warned.

Additionally, as GitHub has evolved into a type of portfolio for software professionals, this prejudice can negatively impact the careers of developers. “As a newbie, you may transfer it into a successful career at a firm if your contributions are approved to even one of the large projects,” Nagappan added.

In response to Protocol’s request for comment from GitHub, Nagappan stated that the research’s objective is to solve issues in the open-source community as a whole rather than focusing just on GitHub. GitHub developers who are viewed as women have lower acceptance rates, according to earlier study, according to Nagappan. The country of origin of developers has also been proven to affect acceptance rates.

He acknowledges that estimating a person’s race and ethnicity isn’t entirely accurate using the NamePrism method his team utilised. Researchers only designated a developer’s race or ethnicity when they were confident in the tool. They labelled the developer’s alleged race as “unknown” for everyone else.

The majority of developers who post ideas on GitHub and the majority of individuals who comment on those ideas had names that the Waterloo researchers believed were white, despite the fact that they avoided assigning a particular reason to this phenomena of racial prejudice on GitHub. Furthermore, they discovered that when the persons responding to pull requests are from the same racial or ethnic group, developers who are thought to be Black, Hispanic, or Asian-Pacific Islander are more likely to have their pull requests approved.