Pairing and Other Office Battles

by Jeff Langr

February 03, 2005

A poster at JavaRanch complained about loss of worker productivity when his cubemate started pair programming. His work was suffering due to the amount of constant conversation. I dropped a subsequent posting, suggesting that perhaps his neighbors weren’t that good at pairing yet. Pairing done effectively requires only a small amount of verbal communication.

That aside, I’m reminded of other battles in shops. Lights vs. no lights, for example. Some cultures like to work in the relative dark and turn off the fluorescent lights. This can make it very difficult for some people, perhaps even emotionally. Others claim that fluorescent lights cause them similar distress, and they’re unable to work as effectively as possible.

The best we can do is learn to show some respect and consideration for others. This doesn’t mean, however, that we cater to everyone’s whims. I happen to work best shirtless (not a pretty sight) and with obnoxious music playing. I’ve found that I need some noise level, otherwise I’m unable to concentrate. (It’s probably a side-effect of my wife using a white noise device to sleep at night.) But my personal preferences aren’t going to fly in most places.

I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t give a hoot. After doing this long enough, I’ve learned to adapt to wacky coding styles, ignorant management, fluorescent lights, unworkable processes, shirts, and silence or excessive noise. I’ve worked in a Coke room, an open room with 60 people (on 3+ projects), in a rickety shack of a building, in lots of horrid cube farms, in an office with a physically abusive coworker, and in an office with two heavy smokers (back when you could still smoke in the office). I still managed to always get the job done.

I note that my most successful projects were when I worked in a collaborative environment, i.e. not in isolated cubes or offices. The best efforts I’ve ever been on were with a bunch of developers circled around a group of monitors, pairing or no pairing and XP or no XP.

If something is particularly bothersome to me, I first find a way to change it. I’ve taken out fluorescent light bulbs, I’ve brought in Allen wrenches and dismantled cubes, I’ve put my headphones on, I’ve requested a different cube, I’ve talked to my coworkers and management. If I can’t change it, I learn to cope. If I can’t cope, I just leave. When the time comes that none of these is an option, it’s time to move to my second career.

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Jeff Langr

About the Author

Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.