Pair programming describes a technique designed to improve the quality of code, and is a vital part of the curriculum at Code Nation.

Employers are using this process more and more often and will often look for evidence of experience in pair programming when hiring new staff, which is why we build it into all of our courses.

What is pair programming?

Pair programming is a method of agile software development where two coders collaborate at the same workstation. Typically, one will input the code as the other reviews each line while it’s typed. The former is sometimes called the “driver”, and the latter referred to as the “navigator”.

This coding technique often employs a junior and mid-range developer together as doing so allows less experienced coders to learn new skills on the job. Similarly, a new member of the team may also be paired with a more experienced employee to learn the ropes when beginning their role.

Although many coders have a preferred position within the pair, they will still switch at specific intervals to keep each other on their toes and encourage mutual learning.

What Are The Benefits And Drawbacks To Pair Programming?

Like any agile methodology technique, pair programming has its upsides and downsides, but the positives outweigh the negatives, which is why many businesses favour it.  

Positives

Pair programming usually delivers far fewer mistakes compared to when coders fly solo as the extra set of eyes enables the pair to spot errors and solves problems with far higher frequency. To this end, project managers will often pair up coders with different ways of working, as the theory goes that this will minimise the number of mistakes.

As previously mentioned, working as a pair can also help coders develop their skills and best practices by observing colleagues up close. Learning new skills on the job like this can also help reduce training times, as managers can send a smaller group on a course to convey the information to others through pair programming upon returning.

Despite the obvious drawback of one task taking up the time of two people rather than one, many argue that pair programming is more productive as the presence of another person makes it more difficult to procrastinate. In a similar way, having two heads rather than one can help both coders keep going through a rough patch as their comradery provides a form of moral support.

Best of all, pair programming can help you develop your interpersonal skills. By working together, you’re actively learning to listen more intently, take and give constructive criticism and develop stronger relationships with colleagues.

Negatives

Although there are many advantages to using pair programming, it cannot be ignored that it reduces overall work time as two coders will be working on the same task. This issue is exacerbated in companies with small teams, as the total work time will increase. It’s often recommended that coders should be paired together for no more than three hours.

Finding the right pair of coders can often be tricky, as an effective pair programming partnership will rely on more than sound coding skills. Two people with poor communication skills or an inability to work seamlessly together will inevitably take longer and churn out code that still has errors.

Working effectively in a pair programming environment is all about understanding your partner, working closely with them and being open to learning. By doing that, you become a better coder and produce brilliant work.

How To Prepare For Pair Programming Interview

Many employers will use pair programming as a means of assessing possible new employees in an interview. To best prepare for such an interview, try to consider these following points:

  • Ask questions on the task. The interviewer will want you to ask questions to show that you’re willing to go further, so don’t see this as a sign that you don’t know your stuff. Similarly, don’t feel you can’t ask questions or look things up during the session – try to treat it as you would any other coding task in this regard.
  • Review the company’s website. An oft-used task is to examine the code on the employer’s website, so make sure to have a look before an interview. If you’re interviewing for an agency, you can be even more prepared by taking a look at the websites of a few of their clients.
  • Seek advice from others on pair programming. Reading blogs like this will only get you so far! If you know anyone who’s done pair programming before, ask them to jot down a few notes or even take part in a short session with you.
  • Expect silences. This may seem counterintuitive, but no pair programming session is filled with chatter from start to finish. While you should communicate clearly with your partner, you won’t be expected to be speaking for the entire session, so don’t panic if a few instances crop up where you’re focusing on the code itself.

In Summary

Using pair programming for selected tasks can be a great way to improve the output on a task. Despite its drawbacks, when well managed, pair programming can prove an invaluable tool for software developers looking to reduce the number of errors in their code and share knowledge.

Like the sound of pair programming? Find out more about this and many other coding practices you could learn at Code Nation by getting in touch today!

Email: hello@wearecodenation.com

Call: 0333 050 4570

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