Pair programming, also known as “pair coding” or “just pairing”, is about team collaboration. It is an agile software development technique that implies that the code is written by two people in real time, instead of just one. The pairing set typically includes one screen, two sets of keyboards, and two mice. One developer is the driver who writes the code and the other one, the observer or navigator, reviews each line of code as it is typed in.
To the outside eye, it could seem as if there are two specialists performing the same operations that traditionally have been done solemnly. This technique doesn’t look cost-effective at all, but it has its merits.
Benefits of Pair Programming
Most importantly, the code in pair programming is of higher quality and produces fewer defects as compared to solo programming. Developers are more likely to find bugs and problems when working together – two sets of eyes usually see more than one. While the driver writes the code, the navigator watches the style and function. It’s often difficult to find your own mistakes whereas a colleague can find them much faster.
Quite often we focus on how quickly we begin seeing results and miss one important thing. It’s hard to assess the economic cost of bugs because there are a number of non-obvious tasks that go into fixing those errors. For instance, if the person who created the corresponding piece of code is unavailable due to some circumstances, the context gets lost and it will require extra time and effort to understand the code and fix the problem. In pair programming, you always have at least one person who knows how to deal with the problem.
Common thinking can slow down project completion because you put two developers to work independently to create a single program, rather than having them collaborating. Having two developers at one workstation means that they are twice as likely to know how to deal with a problem. If two developers have to agree with each other before asking for assistance from other specialists, this means they won’t over-ask for help. If one of them has an idea of how to proceed, they will try to do so before they call back-up.
There are plenty of ways to solve the issues that might arise. Among many other decisions, the software development process involves the selection of best data structures, algorithms, and class hierarchies. When developers pair, their experience helps to make better choices.
Pair programming is a good way for developers with little experience to get “full immersion” in software development. It can increase their confidence in the code they are writing and decrease the time they flounder around. If the driver finds an error in the code, there will be two of them who will solve the problem.
A cross-functional team can be very powerful. If the two developers have a similar level of expertise, pair programming can help them up-skill each other and generate greater ideas. In contrast, companies that don’t embrace cross-functional teams often find themselves in situations where they are too dependent on certain specialists.
Team Communication and Employee Satisfaction
Though it is easier to concentrate on tasks when doing solo programming, pair programming helps to keep developers informed of each other’s work. Code reviews can ease the problem, but pairing prevents it straight away. Developers who work together are equally familiar with the code they write, as well as with the decisions they make.
Writing code together can bring team members closer to each other as they share their knowledge and previous experience and have more things to discuss.
What is more, teams that regularly change pairing partners maintain better communications between all team members. Streamlined communication in teams that practice pairing helps to create a distinct team identity. Positive cultural experiences are correlated with higher rates of employee satisfaction. This is a big advantage in a highly competitive industry where talent is scarce.
Communication fosters creativity. By continuously interacting, the developers can come up with ideas that may not have come to their minds when working alone. When the two colleagues share ideas they can come up with better solutions in less time.
When developers work alone they may be satisfied with the first solution that comes to them, but in pairing, they will have to explain their choice to their colleagues. The other person may not agree with the solution proposed and offer another perspective on the issue. The discussion arising from this will lead to more effective solutions.
It Is a Matter of Choice
The best approach to pair programming is to have two individual developers collaborate and share a computer. Make them cooperate to code and then test their codes in a genuine sense of a partnership. Ideally, to get a task accomplished there should be two equally skilled developers (expert – expert or novice – novice), while expert – novice pairs are best for training and educational purposes.
Pair programming is always a matter of choice and should be implemented at will, rather than enforced. The key point here is to consider the project requirements before choosing any of the options.