The Benefits of Pair Programming

Pair programming is a software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes code while the other, the observer or navigator,[1] reviews each line of code as it is typed in. If teams are just starting out with pairing, it can take practice and patience to be a “good pair,” which can be difficult even for experienced pair programmers. Do retros after a pairing session to understand what worked well, what didn’t work, and how you can improve future sessions. Today’s developer feels the pressure of delivering at rapid speeds.

  • By actively discussing and challenging solutions to problems with their team, developers become accountable for the whole code base.
  • This will make your work more enjoyable, encourage team communication, and of course, make your code better.
  • It’s simply a handy tool that’s available for developers to use as their needs dictate.
  • A common implementation of pair programming calls the programmer at the keyboard the driver, while the other is called the navigator.
  • At first it looks like just another way to increase efficiency and productivity, but when developers pair with another colleague, besides producing code with fewer bugs, they build trust in the team.

According to a study from the University of Utah, code developed during pair programming comes with 15% fewer defects. Many people who work in software development today have heard of the practice of pair programming, yet it still only has patchy adoption in the industry. One reason for its varying acceptance is that its benefits are not immediately obvious, it pays off more in the medium- and long-term. And it's also not as simple as "two people working at a single computer", so many dismiss it quickly when it feels uncomfortable. However, in our experience, pair programming is vital for collaborative teamwork and high quality software.

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Another advantage of pair programming lies in how it enables you to share best practices with your team. Our brains don’t all address problems the same way and we actually often use strategies that have produced results before in the first place. If you recently pushed the code, you can tackle situation in a few minutes pair programming meaning over Slack, Teams or any other messaging tools. Conversely, an old piece of code requires you to dig in tickets and commits to recall why you chose that path. You thus have to go through context switches and you might experience difficulty to communicate clearly or even get flustered as you feel a sense of urgency.

pair programming meaning

When setting up a pairing schedule, try to agree on a fixed and limited time that will fit within a typical eight-hour work day, leaving time for lunch, email, personal tasks, etc. Those personal tasks are essential to our work day, but they’re also distractions that shouldn’t be attempted during a pairing session. There are benefits and drawbacks to pairing sessions, so a few GitLab team members shared their thoughts to help you determine whether pair programming is right for you. Typically, we pair program naturally when we are stuck and ask for a colleague's help.

Pair Programming’s Pros and Cons

To deal with it, you have to get disciplined as a team and embrace a culture of periodical reviews. If you don’t, sooner or later your code base will internally implose and any changes will require a lot of efforts. The reviewer is ultimately responsible for letting your code pass to the next stage on your Scrum board, for example QA, or go straight into production. Reviewing someone else code requires discipline, context switching and spending a lot of time reflecting on potential issues. Thus, most often than not, reviewers put way too much trust into the author’s code, leading to defects not being caught before landing into production.

Your partner can more easily spot your own misconceptions and biases, helping you get back on track more quickly. If you’re taking one of our classes, consider connecting with other students in our forums or on Discord. You can virtually pair program, and while it has a few more hurdles than in-person pair programming, it can still be beneficial. Having someone quality checking the code as it’s being written will improve accuracy. Issues and bugs can be caught immediately rather than down the road when it’s harder to debug. Most of their time is spent solving problems, so having another programmer to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with is invaluable.

Are we missing a good definition for pair programming? Don't keep it to yourself...

Pair programming is a practice in software development where two developers collaborate in a single workstation at the same time. If it's the former, programmers will need special software that allows screen sharing and real-time editing to make it all work. The process starts with the developers receiving a well-defined task. They agree on one small goal at a time, such as writing code, testing or just taking notes.

I firmly believe that pair programming is a must when the team has got different levels of skillsets. Instead of same people pairing up for long duration there can be a primary developer responsible for delivering a user story or a piece of functionality. While the development is in progress different people can pair up with this primary developer. The frequency can be anything like swap pairs daily or twice during the day or at a logical point.

How to pair

Companies like Peloton, Stash, Grubhub, Snap, and Vimeo are all examples. GitLab’s Support team created a dedicated project and issue templates for pairing sessions. Given the success of pairing, teammates might be tempted to join forces a little too often. Pair programming can feel inefficient if overdone or used for tasks such as boilerplate code, smaller and well-defined changes, and yak shaving.

pair programming meaning

It also helps to make the code self documenting or, at least, better documented. And I believe that the best programs and designs are done by pairs, because you can criticise each other, and find each others errors, and use the best ideas. To learn more about our process of developing award-winning software here at Very, contact us today.

Why use pair programming?

Even if you’re still learning to code, pair programming is a good way to improve your skills. For example, if you’re new to Python, you might want to practice with another student learning Python (or someone more experienced). If a colocated pair is sharing a single machine, they’ll need to come to some agreements about the configuration of their shared computers, keyboards, mouses, etc. That ergonomic keyboard with all the custom hardware macros might not be the best choice for sharing. But if you don’t mind using the same laptop or keyboard and mouse, swapping roles from navigator to driver in a pair might be as simple as switching places.

It naturally has some challenges, but with a few pair programming tips, even your first pairing sessions will be a success. The time cost in mythical work hours is nowhere near the 50% that may seem intuitive if you tried to to equate the intricate art of coding with repetitive assembly line work. These are the real-world challenges that pair programming helps to address.

Best practices for pair programming

When a pair finds themselves going for more than a minute or two without saying a word, it’s likely the pairing has stopped. Of course, it’s not mandatory to use this exact phrasing, but if the requirements of a feature can’t be expressed in this minimalist way, it’s possible that the expectations are ambiguous. That’s a potential red flag that’s easier for a pair of programmers to spot when they start to discuss what’s needed.

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