Saarbrücken computer scientist honored for influential research on program comprehension

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Award winner Sven Apel with a 3D print of his brain. Photo: Oliver Dietze

Sven Apel, professor of computer science at Saarland University, received together with colleagues the “Most Influential Paper Award” for their paper “Measuring Progamming Experience” at the “International Conference on Program Comprehension (ICPC)”. With the award the researchers are honored for investigating a key question of the field, which had a lasting impact on research on program comprehension.

In the 2012 paper “Measuring Programming Experience,” Saarbrücken computer science professor Sven Apel and his colleagues Janet Siegmund, Christian Kästner, Jörg Liebig and Stefan Hanenberg examined a core issue of program comprehension research: namely, how programming experience can be measured reliably: “How well someone understands program code is, of course, significantly related to how much experience he or she has in programming. Ten years ago, when we published our study, many experiments on program comprehension did not take this aspect into account at all, or at least not systematically. We wanted to change that,” explains Sven Apel.

In their 2012 study, for which they now received the award, the researchers have devised a questionnaire grounded in empirical research to assess programming experience and also developed a prototypical experimental setup to assess and measure the level of experience of a programmer. According to the ICPC 2022 selection committee, the work has had a lasting influence on numerous other research projects in the field of program comprehension over the past ten years and is therefore worthy of an award.

The “International Conference on Program Comprehension” is one of the most renowned conferences in the world in the name-giving field and celebrates its 30th edition this year. It is supported by the two largest associations in the field of computer science, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Originally, the event was to be held in Pittsburgh, USA, but was moved to a digital format due to the Corona pandemic.

Computer science professor Sven Apel continues to successfully research program comprehension. As recently as April 2022, he received  a prestigious “ERC Advanced Grant” of the European Research Council worth 2.5 million euros for the project “Brains On Code: A Neuroscientific Foundation of Program Comprehension”.


Original publication:
Janet Feigenspan, Christian Kästner, Jörg Liebig, Sven Apel, und Stefan Hanenberg. Measuring Programming Experience. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Program Comprehension (ICPC), pages 73-82. IEEE, June 2012.


Further information:


Questions can be directed at:
Prof. Dr. Sven Apel
Chair of Software Engineering
Saarland University
Tel: +49 681 302 57211



Background Saarland Informatics Campus:
900 scientists (including 400 PhD students) and about 2100 students from more than 80 nations make the Saarland Informatics Campus (SIC) one of the leading locations for computer science in Germany and Europe. Five world-renowned research institutes, namely the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, the Center for Bioinformatics and the Cluster for “Multimodal Computing and Interaction” as well as Saarland University with three departments and 24 degree programs cover the entire spectrum of computer science.


Philipp Zapf-Schramm
Competence Center Computer Science
Saarland Informatics Campus
Phone: +49 681 302-70741