Fullstack | Grace Hopper: Five things I learned about pair programming
I’ve always been pretty comfortable working with small groups, and I love talking with people, so I was surprised when one of my biggest struggles at the Grace Hopper Program in our first days was pair programming. It’s a fantastic experience, but it takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to work with someone you’ve never met before!
If you’re pair programming for the first time, or if you’re just feeling a little out of sorts and looking to smooth the process, here are some guidelines I find helpful (and keep repeating to myself, over and over, in my moments of despair):
- Don’t interrupt your partner. Good communication in pair programming is one of the most important building blocks for a successful session, so try to be a good listener. Be careful to let your partner finish their thought and be respectful of their ideas.
- Respect the roles. If you’re driving, listen. If you’re navigating, speak up. One of the most difficult situations I’ve run into is when someone is both driving and navigating. It’s a big bummer; someone always ends up feeling left out or like they can’t contribute in a positive way. I’ve done it to others and I’ve had others do it to me. We’re all guilty of this occasionally, so it’s just something to be mindful of.
- Switch roles frequently and take regular breaks. Find a way to break your project up into 15- or 20-minute segments. Switch roles often, and take micro-breaks when you switch. Getting up from the computer, stretching and walking around can help clear your mind and keep you focused.
- Balance strategies. Some programmers are the type to dive in right away, while others are a little more methodical and like to read all of the documentation carefully. Respect your partner’s approach and don’t be afraid to try a new style. That being said, if you feel rushed, stuck, or uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask to switch gears.
- Go easy on yourself. Sometimes you’ll really catch onto concept and contribute a lot, and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes your partner will be taking the lead, and sometimes you will — it’s o.k.! Don’t be too hard on yourself; everyone grasps concepts differently at different times. That’s why you learn so much faster when you’re working with someone else.