Stop Wasting Time: Pair Programming Rocks

Eric Elliott
Nov 19, 2016 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Grains — Judit Klein (CC BY ND 2.0)

What is Pair Programming?

Pair programming is a software development methodology that works a bit like airline pilots: You have a captain at the controls, and a navigator.

Mentorship Culture

I am a strong believer in building development teams with a culture of mentorship baked in deep. No developer should ever stay stuck on a problem for more than 10 or 20 minutes. If you’re struggling, you should be able to reach out and ask for help.

Pairing Styles

There are 2 common styles of pair programming, and both are valid, though I do have a preference as you’ll soon see.

100% Pairing

Some development teams pair 100% of the time, all the time. Team members are paired up with partners, and there is always a navigator watching every keystroke.

Ad-Hoc Pairing

Sometimes, pairing partners like a little variety. They want a little uninterrupted alone time. Sometimes when you’re coding and you’re on a good track, and you know where you’re going, you just need a bit of silence so you can concentrate and get the job done. It’s hard to get into a state of flow if there’s somebody always reading over your shoulder and talking in your ear.

Pair programming to the rescue.

Pairing Tips

Here are some things that work well for me:

  1. Pairing requires high-bandwidth. Sometimes video chat is really nice. If you don’t have Screen Hero, try Google Hangouts.
  2. Before you dive in, clearly explain what it is you’re trying to do, what you expected to happen, and what actually happened. Demonstrate the problem by running the code.
  3. If you’re helping somebody else, let them drive. People learn better when their brains are tasked with something active. They’ll remember how to do it better next time if they’re driving.
  4. If explaining something is clearly not working, take the wheel. Show, don’t tell.
  5. Don’t feel stupid or inadequate if the helper needs to take the wheel from you once in a while. Be open and receptive to the help. Stay tuned in. Pay attention and try to follow along.
  6. Once you feel confident that you’re on the right track, see if you can strike out alone again. I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but we learn best when our brains are challenged. Be brave!

Conclusion

Pair programmers are:

  • Good listeners and sounding boards.
  • Heroes, coming to the rescue when a teammate is in trouble.


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