Pairing should be the norm

Posted by Chris on June 11, 2009

kittensI recently participated in a discussion regarding pair programming. There were not really anyone against pair programming in general, so the discussion was mostly about what situations or types of tasks are good for pair programming. What always bothers me with this type of discussion is that it seems like most people consider pair programming to be something we decide to do because it fits a specific situation. In my opinion it should be the other way around. For any given situation we might decide not to pair program because of some circumstance, but that should be a conscious decision to disregard our normal standard of always working in pairs.

The problem with considering pair programming as something we decide to do in some situations, as opposed to deciding not to do it in some situations, is that it is too easy to stick with the norm by not making that decision. “This task is too simple, that task is too complex and requires some serious thinking, I do not feel like pairing today” are all easy excuses to use when you do not have to answer why. A conscious decision of disregarding a work standard requires much more than “not feeling like it today”.

When I propose that pair programming should be the norm people often react by listing situations where it would be wrong and wasteful (according to them at least) or by identifying problems with working with someone else all the time (“what if someone smells bad?”), almost regressing to an anti-pairing opinion. I think this is because this concept is so foreign to what we have been taught for so long, and that most pro-pairing people have actually not tried pairing as the standard way of working like I propose. To this day I have never met anyone who have actually tried working this way for at least a month but would like to work any other way.

For a great story of someone who did try real pair programming I really recommend Rod Hilton’s post I Love Pair Programming. I’ll end with a quote from that post:

I see pairing work so well every day that I consider my career prior to my current job to have consisted mostly of wasting time.

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  • We use pair programming quite extensively at uni - it's a great way to teach each other - but I guess in my opinion it is not so much about finding ways why we should pair program, rather it sometimes feels like the end-results is far away. Hm. That is of course dependent on what the end-result is, learning or a method/class/prototype. Pair programming is fun for many reasons but it is sometimes difficult to see the productivity increase. I guess that is one reason we miss out on pair programming all too often.

    Great reflection!

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