Aug 12, 2008

Pair programming in real life

I am not much of an Agile fan. With a degree in engineering and a background in telco software I came to appreciate the architecture-centered mindset, development methodologies and documentation. Nevertheless, the Agile movement has been very important for marketing of multiple best practices which we all know and love. Just think of TDD and how development had felt before xUnit came to our rescue.

Arguably, XP is the most controversial approach and Pair Programming the most contentious practice it introduced. Personally, I never felt good about it. There are very few people I would tolerate that close and I do not like people touching my keyboard and mouse for sanitary reasons anyway.

There seems to be a more benign variant of this practice though. I have noticed it in more than one company so it seems to be quite common. Reading a good overview of Agile practices recently I found that there is a name for it in FDD: a feature team. The idea is that a feature or component is assigned to a small team, not a single developer. In my experience it usually takes a 2-developer team to be really productive so the parallel with Pair Programming is self-evident.

The benefit is clear. You can bounce ideas of each other, you are likely to have different areas of expertise or at least skill levels, you can complete the assignment almost twice as fast and there will be two people knowledgeable of that particular component.

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