Lonely Coding


It’s official. I’m a better programmer when I’m pairing with someone. Pair Programming (two people, one keyboard) has been around for at least 20+ years, if not much longer. Usually one person types while another person (paces around and) thinks. It is kind of a "driver and navigator" model.

Everyone is different, to be clear, so it’s very possible that you are the kind of person who can disappear into a closet for 8 hours and emerge with code, triumphant. I’ve done this before. Some of my best projects have involved me coding alone and that’s fine.

However, just has we know that "diverse teams make for better projects," the same is true in my experience when coding on specific problems. Diversity isn’t just color and gender, etc, it’s as much background, age, personal history, work experience, expertise, programming language of choice, heck, it’s even google-ability, and more!

How many times have you banged your head against a wall while coding only to have a friend or co-worker find the answer on their first web search?

Good pair programming is like that. Those ah-ha moments happen more often and you’ll feel more than twice as productive in a pair.

In fact, I’m trying to pair for an hour every week remotely. Mark Downie and I have been pairing on DasBlog on and off for a year or so now in fits and starts. It’s great. Just last week he and I were trying to crack one problem using regular expressions (yes, then we had two problems) and because there were two of us looking at the code it was solved!

Why is pair programming better?

Here’s a few reasons why I think Pair Programming is very often better.

  • Focus and Discipline – We set aside specific times and we sprint. We don’t chat, we don’t delete email, we code. And we also code with a specific goal or endpoint in mind.
  • Collective ownership – I feel like we own the code together. I feel less ego about the code. Our hacks are our hacks, and our successes are shared.
  • Personal growth – We mentor each other. We learn and we watch how the other moves around the code. I’ve learned new techniques, new hotkeys, and new algorithms.

Let’s talk about the remote aspect of things. I’m remote. I also like to poke around on non-work-related tech on the side, as do many of us. Can I pair program remotely as well? Absolutely. I start with Skype, but I also use Google Hangouts, Join.me, TeamViewer, whatever works that day.

If you’re a remote person on a larger team, consider remote pair programming. If you’re an consultant  or perhaps you’ve left a big corporate job to strike off on your own, you might be lonely. Seriously, ask yourself that hard question. It’s no fun to realize or have to declare you’re a lonely coder, but I am and I will. I love my job and I love my team but if I go a day or two without seeing another human or spending some serious time on Skype I get really tense. Remote pair programming can really reduce that feeling of lonely coding.

I was at a small tech get together in Atlanta a few days ago and I knew that one person there was a singular coder at their small business while another at the table was an emerging college student with an emerging talent. I made a gentle suggestion that maybe they consider pairing up on some side projects and they both lit up.

Consider your networks. Are there people you’ve met at conferences or at local user groups or meetups that might be good remote pairing partners? This might be the missing link for you. It was for me!

Do you pair? Do you pair remotely? Let us all know in the comments.

* Stock photo purchased from ColorStock – Your customers are diverse, why aren’t your stock photos?

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