Pair Programming: Absurd or nah?

Image of code on a computer screen.

I adore having a preconceived notion and then changing my mind after gaining a new perspective. When this happens I get a great opportunity to laugh at myself and am again reminded that hey, I don’t always know everything I think I do.

In this week’s episode of Ashly Changes her Mind, we feature pair programming. Don’t know what pair programming is, exactly? Here is a quick video explanation:

When I first heard about pair programming, I thought, “Nah bro, that ain’t for me.” Two people working on one computer, passing the keyboard back and forth while they collaborate using an incessant stream of talking? Um, it could take (has taken) me years to get that comfortable with someone! And I’m not even to the stage where I can focus while listening to music; how in the world am I supposed to concentrate when my partner won’t be quiet already? Not to mention my perfectionist tendency of wanting everything I do to be 100% correct before showing it to the world – someone watching me make mistakes is my personal nightmare.

But then I did what I always do when I feel underinformed about something: I researched the hell out of it. And you know what? – it doesn’t sound so awful anymore. In fact, it sounds kind of awesome. I’ve worked mostly on my own for many years, and I am really good at it. I can happily work eight hours a day not having to answer to anyone, not having to supervise anyone, not getting constantly interrupted. But I get damn lonely. Turns out I need people. It gets exhausting motivating myself, bouncing ideas off of myself (yes, that’s a thing), staying encouraged by myself, learning by myself! And being a bit shy hasn’t been conducive to grabbing someone and saying, “Hey, want to work on this together?” But with pair programming, people are thrown together with a goal and I know some of you are rolling your eyes right now because it can be dreadful but you know what? It can also be amazing.

We feed off of one another’s energy, and we challenge each other. When clashing personalities have to find a way to come together, we grow and are better off because of it. Yes, it can be tough getting critiqued on our way of doing things. Yes, it can be a hassle coming up with an articulate explanation for why we think something should be done. Yes, it can take up precious time experimenting with different ideas to find the best one. But hey, welcome to the world of working with other people! If we want to develop our social and business skills, if we want to help foster an environment of give-and-take among our team, if we want the best ideas to make it into the codebase – then pair programming sounds like a solid way to go.

Junior devs, are you unsure? Pair programming could be a great way for you to learn programming by osmosis, as Maaret Pyhäjärvi has said. Keyboard shortcuts, programming styles, thinking patterns – all these can be picked up more quickly by pairing with someone more experienced. Senior devs, are you uninterested? Pair programming could let you pass on your knowledge to someone who needs it while solidifying your own learning and methods of teaching. Think of it as a paid way to contribute back to the community! Managers, do you have reluctant participants? Have them try it for a few days before they can say no way. Maybe it’s just not their style, or maybe they’ve never found the right partner.

There are so many incredibly smart and talented people in tech. I’d much rather work alongside them, learning and teaching where I can, than sit across from them and work alone. Sure, I may change my mind again down the road, but right now I am all in on pair programming.

Also posted on Medium.

On risk

That thing where you get the final, legit notice that your financing for a coding bootcamp has been approved and you think to yourself, “Dear lord, this is really happening!?” Yeah, that.

Last night I sat at Whiskey Street with my love, drinking cocktails and catching Pokemon. Just across the way stood the building where said coding bootcamp will be starting in two short weeks. I stared at it. I tweeted about how this is the riskiest thing I’ve ever done. One of my inner voices popped up and reminded me, “Hey, you’ve remarried after a horrible divorce, are you sure this is the riskiest?” To which I replied, “Yeah, girl. Yeah.”

Then another inner voice proceeded to yell, “YOU ARE THIRTY FREAKING SEVEN AND JUST NOW DOING THE RISKIEST THING EVER? IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

Ah, my brain.

What makes this the riskiest is that I have people depending on me. I have kids, a husband. If I fail it’s not just me in the poorhouse, living in my car again, eating ramen and bologna sandwiches every day of the week. It’s my kids who’ll lose their own bedrooms in the traditional suburban home I’ve finally been able to provide after all these years; it’s my husband who won’t have the freedom to keep doing what he loves because there will be pressure for him to get a better-paying job with actual benefits. It will be all the savings I’ve painstakingly set aside over the last eight years gone in a flash and nothing to show for it.

Risk in this situation is a different ball game than risk on my own. As a teen, I took crazy risks even after thinking things through. Sure, I’ll take my friend’s Lotus up to 150 on an unfamiliar mountain road. Sure, I’ll get a jailhouse-style tattoo from a guy who was introduced to me over lunch at Denny’s. Sure, I’ll fall in and out of love with abandon because hey, it’s just my own heart I’m hurting. Then you have kids. Or you get married. Or you have family members you need to take care of. And risks, even though they’re not life-threatening and really sound quite safe, suddenly become about ten times scarier.

I am scared. I hide it pretty well. Most of the time, I’m confident I’ll succeed because career-wise, I always have. But often I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat (cliche but true), absolutely terrified of being a source of struggle for the people I love the most. God love ’em – they’re not even worried about it. I guess I’ve got that part covered 🙂

Also published on Medium.

I’ll decide.

“Write what you know,” they say.

“Write about what you’re learning,” they say.

“Write about experiences you’ve had,” they say.

“STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO,” I say.