Pair Programming Withdrawal

by Jeff Langr

February 07, 2008

Once again, I find myself without peers. I’ll spare the details, but I used to work with some great agile technical mentors. I had some (never enough) opportunities to just sit and pair on a solution, not as a mentor, but as a peer on a programming effort. Unfortunately they’ve all disappeared, one way or another.

I’m reminded of my feelings when I left a 7-month programming gig a few years ago. During that seven months, I paired almost continually. I looked forward to going to work every morning. There’s a significant social aspect to pairing, but mostly I looked forward to learning new things.

Some of my favorite pairing sessions in the past half-year were with Tim O.**, and more recently with a guy named Rick. I learned, and I think they may have learned too. I improved in capability and thus effectiveness on vi while working with Tim. With vi, a very powerful editor, I think there are a number of rungs: 1, where it just beeps at you, 2, where you’ve figured out how to survive, 3, where you’re reasonably proficient, 4, where you know quite a bit and are very effective, and 5, a true master that knows everything in there. Tim is certainly at 4 and approaching 5 (there were a few things he had to look up). The nice thing about our pairing sessions is that Tim helped me to step up from rung 2 to 3.

Now, I’m all alone (*sob*). Sympathy cards are welcome, but smacks upside the head for my whining are also welcome. The way I look at it is that every day that I’m not pairing, there are many, many things that I could be learning that I’m not. That’s a shame. I now second-guess my work. “This sucks. There has to be a better way. Is there a better way?” I’m pretty sure that I also develop more slowly.

As an aside, I’ve heard suggestions that expert-to-expert pairings are a waste of time. That’s absolutely not true. A good tennis player and friend once told me that the best way to hone your game and take it to the next level is to play with someone as good as you or better. It works in programming, too.

**Tim is an Object Mentor consultant who coaches agile teams in just about everything. I think he’d like it that I added this information.



I love to play Enemy Territory, online objective based first person perspective shooter.
Sometimes it happened there are only few people left on a server at early morning. The most exiting moment for me is, when I face enemy much better than I’m. That’s the unique time when I’m given a chance to improve my: aiming, decision making, orientation and coordination skills.
Although I don’t consider myself an expert, I’m not a total lame as I was few times recruited for medium skill clans.

Apparently, those who consider expert-to-expert paring to be a wast of time, are ashamed to admit they are not as good as they thought.


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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.