One and a Half Minds are Better: Learning by Pairing
posted on 03 May 2011
My name is Brad Heller and I’ve just started at AboutUs.org as an agile developer! AboutUs.org has a pretty interesting way to ramping their new guys: Pairing! To be honest, it’s not not really all that different from how we normally do our work, but it is a great way to learn about a company’s technology if you’re new.
In reality, a lot of agile shops introduce people to their stack via pair programming, either formally or informally. Here are a few notes I’ve compiled from my experience thus far.
Use a workstation that has multiple input devices.
This is good general advice for pairing. At AboutUs, we have pairing stations with two keyboards, two mice, and one gigantic monitor. This allows you to jump in quickly when you feel inspired, without having to shuffle hardware.
Use a tool set that you are both familiar with.
You want to learn the technology, not the tools (unless, of course, the tools are critical to the technology). Spending a lot of time explaining how the tools work interrupts the “knowledge stream” you build in doing the work together.
Figure out a system that allows you to take notes without getting lost.
This is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. When you’re pairing, the person in the know often moves pretty quickly, so taking notes can be hard. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked the same question for the Nth time because I didn’t take good notes!
Be aware of your partners working style and pair with someone who’s compatible.
Avoid problems that stem from the different working styles by pairing with a mentor who works similarly to you. For example, I tend to want to move very quickly through problems by trying many solutions and rolling back anything that doesn’t work. Then, when I do find a working solution, I reflect on it to figure out if it’s optimal or not. I’ve found that Thomas and I work well together (as far as I’ve been able to tell, anyway) because his working style is similar to mine.
Don’t be afraid to drive.
Few people can learn by watching alone. You have to get your hands dirty if you want to learn! Besides, this is the best time dive in, as you’ve got a saftey net in case you mess up (erm, that is when you mess up).blog comments powered by Disqus