You must have heard about pair programming and it’s testing sibling, pair testing. What you might not have realized that there are two significantly different styles of pairing. We call one traditional and the other strong-style. The selection of style becomes particularly relevant when there are background and skill differences in the pair — let’s make educated choices and learn about both styles!

Individual Work

Working alone leaves all work on one brain.

Traditional Pairing

The problem with this style of pairing is that the one without the keyboard is continuously decoding what they are observing from the other’s testing, building assumptions. It is hard to see what exactly is going on and this easily creates a bit of a disconnect in the pair. At worst, the disconnect shows as the watcher zoning out and not paying attention. Regularly, it shows as the notes not matching the testing that was done.

Traditional pairing: I have an idea, give me the keyboard!

Strong-Style Pairing

The benefit of this style of pairing is that the one without the keyboard must vocalize all their ideas. This style creates a stronger connection in the pair. Speaking about what you want to happen on the keyboard is a skill of its own, and it takes a bit of practice to get used to. The person on the keyboard sets the pace in which things happen within the pair.

Strong-style pairing: I have an idea, you take the keyboard!

Different Skillsets, Unequal at a Task

With strong-style pairing the one with more knowledge is hands off keyboard, and the less knowledgable sets the pace of how fast they can absorb the pieces of the task.

Strong-Style pairing helps distribute the work and the control so that both are active.

Mob Testing — Pairing on Turned Up

Mob Testing brings in more people for the ideas side using Strong-style to communicate.

There’s a lot more on the dynamics of pairing and mobbing. Check out the Mob Programming Guidebook I’m writing, it is available on LeanPub.

For me adjusting to strong-style is what made pairing turn from frustration to learning fun and something I’d volunteer for. Similarly, mobbing was the gateway to pairing making me comfortable in a group before being alone with each of my team mates. I encourage you to experiment with what works with you.

I'm here to figure out what contents people would like on my book on LeanPub: