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A Developers Take On Pair Programming

David Cooksey on Pair Programming

March 16th, 2012 | David Cooksey

A Developer’s Take on Pair Programming

Over the past few years at Thycotic I have spent a lot of time pair programming. Five days a week, eight plus hours a day adds up to thousands of hours. Through my experiences in pair programming I came to a few conclusions about the practice. These represent my take on pair programming, I make no claims as to their originality.

First: Pair programming makes programming social.

This sounds obvious, but it has by far the biggest impact on how you, as a developer, write code. You are effectively writing code as a committee of two, where each member has veto power. All the factors that developers typically do not have to deal with when working alone come into play. Do you like your pair? Does he/she like you? How about respect? Do you work in similar ways? Do you work similar hours? Will you argue incessantly over architecture? Did you or your pair have a rough night?

Second: Verbal communication is as important as technical ability.

Ideas have to be expressed clearly enough that your pair can understand them. The greatest idea in the world may never be attempted if it is not stated clearly. Equally important is the ability to offer clear reasoning when you disagree with an approach. “I don’t like that” is not sufficient.

Third: Two heads are still better than one. Usually.

The caveat to this one is the social aspect. While in most cases two people who are focused on the task can do a better job, the social aspects mean that particular people may be worse together than they are apart.

So, as a developer, what is the best way to pair program? With courtesy. Learn when to shut up and let your pair drive. Learn how often you can interject comments without causing undue irritation. Learn when to push and when to let it go. If you push for your point of view all the time, no one will want to work with you. If you always give in, no one will respect your opinion. Compromise.

What were your experiences with pair programming? If you have never tried it, what are your thoughts on the subject?

David Cooksey is a Senior .NET developer at LogicBoost, an agile software services and product development company based in Washington DC.

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