Up to 40% fewer code errors, better product quality, higher project risk management culture, and significantly more pleasant cooperation during IT project execution. This is just a fraction of the benefits of pair programming for your business. You can actually get even more. Find out what pair programming really is, and see for yourself that this is what your business needs.
Pair programming is an eXtreme Programming practice in which software is developed under changing requirements. Change is constant in a business environment and therefore pair programming (increasingly considered an agile software development) is a perfect solution. This practice accelerates IT project completion, it is cheaper, and excludes the burden of unnecessary code errors and the operation logic of applications. Where does the need for using this solution in software development come from?
History of pair programming
“To err is human” – this is most probably the main reason why pair programming is becoming the standard of good practices in IT projects. People make mistakes, and acting alone does not favour identifying your own mistakes. Pair work is a different story. In the middle of the twentieth century, Fred Brooks and William Wright undertook their first attempts to work together on one computer. They created about 1500 lines of code that worked on the first try.
When developing complex digital products, cooperation between specialists with differing levels of involvement and experience is required. This urges people to “prove themselves” – this is the next reason behind the evolution of pair programming. On one hand, team members feel more confident when they are monitored by their partner. On the other hand, they want to improve their competencies in order to ultimately be on a par with or outperform others. In this way, the level of expertise of the entire team is constantly on the rise.
Software developers have always been interested in the effectiveness of this practice. With time, more and more experiments and studies have been conducted that confirm the high efficiency of pair programming. Studies by Laurie Williams proved that software developed using pair programming took just 4% time less than in the case of the traditional approach. At the same time, the code had 39% fewer errors than in solo software development.
Her experiments show that investing 15% more in code creation pays back, as pair programming substantially enhances project quality, reduces errors, minimises staff risk, improves the technical skills of the team, and facilitates communication in the team. A large number of developers find it much more pleasant.
What is pair programming?
Pair programming involves two developers working collaboratively at the same computer. One is a driver that focuses on the keyboard and creates the main code. The other is a navigator whose job is to observe the screen and the code, catch errors, ask questions, and suggest solutions. In pair programming developers swap the roles every few dozen minutes and constantly discuss the code.
Pair programming takes many various forms. There can be two specialists with the same level of involvement, or developers with different levels of experience. It may happen that a specialist from a different area takes a place in coding (e.g. UX designer or graphic designer). Some examples of the use of this practice are provided later in this article. At the end there is also the unique way of pair programming used at Stepwise.
In order to maximally use the benefits of pair programming, you need to know when it is worth applying this kind of software development. There are many activities that are performed better by one developer, and assigning another specialist would be a waste of resources. Nevertheless, contrary to appearances, there are tasks that should be done by two programmers, as this is significantly more efficient (and thus cheaper). Interestingly, instead of pair programming, companies sometimes use a considerably larger number of developers at one workstation (team programming).
One example showing the effectiveness of pair programming is the experience of one of our developers who worked on a digital product for the financial sector.
At some point of the process there was a problem to precisely specify the needs and requirements of the product. Email communication, which lengthens project completion, was an additional issue.
In order to develop the product according to the schedule and customer expectations, they decided to turn to pair programming between our developer and the customer. One meeting was enough to configure the product in compliance with the specific customer needs.
What are the benefits of pair programming?
Despite many different opinions, it is hard to question the benefits of pair programming. In a suitably tailored form it is beneficial for developers, software houses and customers. So, in detail, what benefits does pair programming bring for your business?
- Verification of errors at an early stage of coding.
A navigator focuses on monitoring the lines of code, and is able to notice a faulty fragment much faster. Errors are an indispensable part of software development. The sooner they are identified, the cheaper their correction is. Contrary to appearances, businesses that use two developers instead of one, can save both time and money.
- Faster problem solution
In solo programming, one person has to concentrate on coding, testing, and thinking about the logic of an application and the purposefulness of a given solution for business, which is why even the best mind can have problems with finding the best solutions. Pair programming allows for dividing these tasks between two specialists, which accelerates finding solutions. Another thing is that projects are executed in line with the schedule, and time-to-market is not at risk.
- Greater creativity in software development
Two specialists involved in the creation of one code guarantee the best technological solutions and more sophisticated coding. Pair programming facilitates instant brainstorming and selection of the best ways for the creation of particular application functionalities.
- Better code quality
Pair programming is most often a duo of experienced IT specialists. Each of them offers brilliant ideas, extensive knowledge and enormous experience. This combination results in code of dual quality. Ultimately, customers receive faultless products that are resistant to failures, cyber attacks and the passing of time. You are certainly aware of the benefits of pair programming both in the short and long run.
- Efficient flow of knowledge
Two programmers at one computer ensure constant information flow in a team. Pairs usually rotate, which evens out the levels of knowledge and competencies of each specialist. In those software houses that are able to properly use pair programming, the weakest link in a team does not exist. A flow of knowledge in an organisation has the influence on raising the competencies of a team. What is more, this approach substantially reduces the risk of a situation where the only person in the team who knows the code falls ill or goes on holidays. Pair programming is a warranty that at least one additional specialist knows the code at least at the basic level.
Find out more about how Stepwise help their customers in project risk management.
- Easy communication
Not only does pair programming develop hard skills. Specialists also share their knowledge with each other, and their willingness to achieve the best effects possible and great code, makes them maintain constant contact, which develops soft competencies, including interpersonal skills. At Stepwise we require these skills from our developers, as each and every our customer has the possibility to contact any team member.
Each set of the advantages of pair programming contains a point related to time-efficiency. This is not just a cliché, but a fact confirmed by studies. An argument that two people waste their time doing tasks that could be done by one specialist is thus unfounded. All the above mentioned points, studies and many years of experience of renowned companies (like ours) speak for this. Even if writing a code fragment by a pair takes slightly more time, any errors dealt with by two developers at the very beginning, will not be an issue in the future, when identifying and correcting them would take significantly more time, or could lead to much worse consequences for the company.
Another point that is always mentioned in the context of pair programming is cost-effectiveness. Faster task completion time, repair of early identified errors, modification of weak code lines on a current basis, and the possibility of using the best solutions, all save you money. When neglected, all these issues can cost an arm and a leg at the next stages of IT project execution, during product launch and, in the worst case, when a larger number of active users use an application.
- Higher team morale
It is no secret that working together greatly enhances a sense of unity, mutual trust in a group and generally morale. Developers work in teams, but when they receive their tasks, they often isolate, so interaction between team members is rare. Pair programming allows for engaging typically independent positions into common tasks, which deepens the relationships between team members and facilitates solving any conflicts on a current basis. The good energy in a group passes into the spirit of the entire company and customers. What is more, this results in substantially better digital products than in the case of standard programming companies.
- Fewer errors
The code is under the constant supervision of two pairs of eyes, which allows for identifying considerably more errors which could be enormously bothersome in the following stages of project execution. Even if one developer misses something, the other can notice it. The reduction in errors includes not only the code, but also the operation logic of applications.
Examples of the use of pair programming
Educating junior specialists
Senior or mid developers are navigators, while juniors write code. The task of senior specialists is to supervise the coding and instruct their younger colleagues. In pair programming junior developers learn considerably faster how to solve issues. Senior developers just show the direction, and the juniors are supposed to find a path to solve them by themselves.
Pair programming in recruitment is an excellent way to test a candidate for a developer position. An applicant is assigned to an experienced employee and receives a specific task to perform. This experienced employee, as a navigator, evaluates the candidate’s skills and decides whether or not they will prove themselves at this position. The evaluation can include not just technical skills, but also communication skills and the ability to work in a group.
Pair programming instead of Code Review
In certain situations, pair programming can be a better alternative to Code Review. Instead of reading someone’s code afterwards, you can analyse the thought process that has led to the final result. Code Review aims at detecting and correcting errors. When introduced at the stage of coding in pairs, these activities can be extremely time-efficient. Programmers that create code can simultaneously verify their activities and improve their methods to not repeat similar errors in the future.
In projects of medium and high complexity, pair programming can take a slightly different form, where the role of a navigator is constant and assigned to an experienced specialist, whose task is to support the entire team as well as to ensure flexible work and effective project completion. They rotate between the remaining part of the team, and in each session share their knowledge, supporting the information flow between workstations, and help build trust.
Implementation pair programming
At Stepwise we often use pair programming when we integrate a new member into a project team, which largely accelerates the presentation of what we develop, how, and according to what standards. At the same time, we can control the way the new member creates code in order to maintain coherence in all software components.
Remote pair programming
There are multiple examples of the use of remote pair programming. This technique is continuously developing and overcoming the barriers that used to be obstacles, e.g. the unwillingness of some people related to limiting their personal space (work at one station requires sitting close to each other). Now this is no longer a problem. Remote pair programming facilitates cooperation even at large distances.
The current global situation has contributed to the extensive development of tools for remote pair programming. One example is the application “Code With Me”, which allows for cooperation in the intimacy of one’s own home between two persons that are many kilometres away from each other.
Of course, there were such solutions as Zoom, yet new applications make cooperation between programmers, developers and customers of software houses much more comfortable, efficient, and favouring effective IT project completion. Even if people involved in a project are from two different sides of the world.
The use of pair programming at Stepwise
At Stepwise, pair programming is an indispensable element of the everyday work of our entire team. For years we have been creating software for global brands and have developed effective practices in implementing this solution. They serve our own development and allow us to provide our customers with all of the above mentioned benefits of pair programming.
Pair programming at Stepwise takes many various forms and it is not limited just to developers. What differentiates us from our competition is the possibility of getting customers involved in pair programming. So, two persons from Stepwise, or a specialist from Stepwise with a person designated by the customer (product owner or a customer), can participate in programming.
Pair programming with a customer at Stepwise
When a customer (or a delegated person) takes a role in product creation, their business reaps significantly more benefits from pair programming.
During software development, in solving various issues and problems, mailing between a software house and a customer is a usual practice. Each email contains detailed explanations, yet not always concrete answers. This usually takes a lot of time and there is a considerably greater risk of misunderstanding.
Thanks to pair programming, customers are navigators, but they do not need to have the technical knowledge of a coding language. They observe their software development and can modify particular elements on a current basis. Changes are implemented on a living organism, customers see progress in real time and can quickly verify the direction of development of their digital products.
What benefits of pair programming does customer involvement offer?
Better knowledge of one’s own software means better promotion and development of a product in the market. This is the goal of pair programming with a customer at Stepwise.
At Stepwise we are open to pair programming. A specialist from Stepwise (driver) creates or changes code, and explains the rules of operation of a customer application. Our developer presents particular components and functions of code in an understandable manner. In this way, any shortcomings and elements that need to be changed are immediately identified.
Pair programming with a customer works well, particularly during the final stages of software development, when final corrections to products are made. This concerns smaller changes associated with interface design and operation, fonts and colours. Pair programming with a customer facilitates changes and their immediate verification. In an instant we can change a given element, present a modification, as well as implement and test new functionalities. A customer can quickly compare the effects and accept the best variant.
Stepwise have multiple interesting and exceptionally effective project practices up their sleeve. Our solutions serve our customers. We guarantee premium quality at the final stage of a product, as well as during the entire software development process.
Contact us and see for yourself what we have to offer!