Throughout the history of coding, it’s been in the interest of every developer to practice rapid, high-quality code delivery.
Whether the project is coded is a new app, a game, a website, or something else entirely, the ability to quickly produce usable code helps projects progress at a good pace and helps developers meet their deadlines.
One technique that can help with this is remote pair programming.
We’re going to look at what exactly remote pair programming is, how it’s carried out, and the benefits it can provide for programmers and development organizations.
What is Remote Pair Programming?
Pair programming is a coding practice where two programmers work side by side to produce code. One programmer will write the code, which will then be checked by the other person in the pair, with the two participants frequently switching roles.
Because code is being checked as it’s being written, development can progress faster than if the code was being checked upon completion.
Remote pair programming follows the same principles as pair programming, except that the two programmers don’t have to be physically located next to one another. Instead, they can use a variety of real-time communication and code-sharing tools to carry out the process remotely.
By undertaking remote pair programming, programmers can work together to produce code, discuss design, debug, and solve problems as if they were working from the same office, even if they’re located in different offices, cities, or countries.
Remote Pair Programming Styles
There are three commonly practiced styles of remote pair programming, each with its own benefits that make them suitable for different use cases.
The driver-navigator approach is commonly used when a more novice programmer is partnered with a more experienced counterpart.
In this partnership, one programmer, the driver, will be responsible for the mechanical and technical elements of the project. The other programmer, the navigator, will oversee the more strategic and architectural elements of the project.
In most cases, the more novice programmer will assume the driver role, while the more experienced programmer will act as their navigator. How hands-on the navigator is will usually depend on the driver’s experience.
The ping-pong style of remote pair programming is usually applied when programmers have written code that needs to be tested.
One programmer will write a unit of code and then test it to create a failure. At this point, the other developer will take over, rewriting the code to pass that test. They’ll then create another failing test and pass it back to the first developer, and so on.
By frequently passing the code backward and forward, both programmers remain focused and engaged with the project, with neither partner becoming a dominant force.
This helps to ensure that high-quality code is produced. Pair programming typically results in code being generated that is more likely to pass post-development testing.
Most remote pair programming arrangements will fall into the unstructured style category. This involves the two programmers, usually of similar skill levels, working together in an ad hoc manner.
Unstructured pairings tend to have looser guidelines for collaboration, which can make them harder to maintain over long projects and across long distances. For this reason, many remote pair programming endeavors will follow the driver-navigator or ping-pong style approaches.
Skills Combinations for Remote Pair Programming
Remote pair programming can be undertaken by programmers of all skill levels. The experience and expertise of the participants will often be a key factor in determining which style of partnership is carried out.
Remote pair programming involving two ‘expert-level’ programmers will usually follow the ping-pong style. Two programmers of similar skill levels can pass work back and forth efficiently, and both will have enough knowledge and expertise to pick up on errors and write code that corrects them.
Because both programmers are of similar skill levels, there will be less of a mentorship aspect to this type of pairing. Both participants are likely to play an equal role in driving the project forward and will rely on one another to identify and correct faults.
A novice-novice pairing will also often find themselves undertaking a ping-pong-style partnership. If neither programmer has the relevant experience to guide the other, then a driver-navigator-style partnership will be fruitless.
Similarly, an unstructured partnership is unlikely to progress very far with two novice programmers, as neither will have the experience necessary to determine a strong way of working.
The most common combination of skills in remote pair programming is an expert-novice partnership. This approach is effective as it gives experienced programmers a chance to mentor up-and-coming programmers, allowing them to benefit from their knowledge and experience.
Expert-novice partnerships will usually follow the driver-navigator working style for these same reasons. The more experienced programmer can guide the project, mentoring the less experienced programmer as they gain hands-on experience.
The Benefits of Remote Pair Programming
Regardless of whether the project is to write code for a contact centre AI, develop a game, or build a website, remote pair programming can provide many benefits for the programmers involved and the businesses they’re working for.
Remote pair programming helps programmers remain focused on the project they’re working on, especially when working from home. This leads to code being produced more quickly.
Having a partner to collaborate with ensures that developers remain engaged on the task at hand, especially during ping-pong style partnerships where work is constantly being passed back and forth.
Engaging in real-time communication or using other collaboration features such as screen sharing also helps programmers to stay focused, as they’re less likely to succumb to other distractions.
Additionally, remote pair programming enhances the development of digital products by leveraging collaborative programming expertise. It accelerates cycles for quicker responses in the market, merges diverse skills for innovative features, and ensures alignment with customer needs.
This approach also facilitates continuous improvement, allowing programmers to address enhancements and adaptations effectively within the fast-paced landscape of selling digital products.
Remote pair programming helps programmers to hone their communication and collaboration skills. It also gives them the chance to use various communication and collaboration tools, giving them vital experience that can be applied to other future projects.
Remote pair programming can bring together programmers of different skill and experience levels. This gives more experienced programmers a chance to impart what they’ve learned to others who aren’t as far along in their careers.
Most remote pair programming partnerships will have some kind of schedule in place. Even having loose time commitments to adhere to helps to ensure that projects progress in a timely manner.
Having a partner they’re accountable to helps keep programmers focused and ensures that work is completed to meet deadlines and not let down the other programmer in the partnership.
Even expert partnerships can be fertile ground for sharing experiences. Different programmers will have different ways of working and looking at problems, which leads to greater creativity when problem-solving.
A lack of social interaction and feelings of loneliness are two of the major pitfalls associated with remote work.
Remote pair programming helps to combat these issues by giving developers a partner who can be a constant source of interaction and collaboration, helping them to feel connected to the team, even if they’re working away from the office.
Tools for Remote Pair Programming
There are several tools and technologies that can be used to make the remote pair programming process simpler and more efficient.
Instant messaging platforms such as Slack or WhatsApp can help programmers stay in touch easily from their smart devices. They provide a non-intrusive way for programmers to share project updates, ask questions, provide advice, and generally stay in touch.
Video conferencing platforms make it possible for programmers to communicate in a more personal manner, helping to replicate the experience of working in an office together, even if they’re hundreds or thousands of miles apart.
VoIP phone solutions can also be handy for enabling employees to stay in touch when they’re away from the office. The ability to provide a separate business phone number and device can help programmers keep their work and home lives separate.
The screen-sharing features of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom can allow programmers to more easily illustrate their points and share or gather feedback on the work they’ve been doing.
Project management and task tracking platforms like Trello can help programmers to structure their partnerships, and give both programmers a clear picture of what their responsibilities are, and what task they should be working on at any given time.
Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)
An integrated development environment is a software application that provides all the necessary features for writing and testing software.
Many modern IDEs boast built-in collaboration features that help to facilitate remote pair programming, allowing programmers to write, review, and debug code together, even if they’re not in the same physical location.
Programmers will often be able to write, view, and edit code simultaneously in real-time. IDEs often also feature integrated code review tools that allow programmers to leave annotations and suggestions directly in the code, which is especially useful in mentoring situations.
Remote Pair Programming Proves That Two Heads Are Better Than One
Remote pair programming can help programmers quickly generate high-quality code, regardless of the skill levels of the participants, their chosen style, or even which programming language they’re using.
Experienced programmers can use remote pair programming to pass on their expertise, while novice developers can benefit greatly from the mentorship it provides.
The fact that the whole process is remote enables programmers to connect and collaborate effectively, even if they’re geographically distant.
When it comes to development, remote pair programming really does prove that two heads are better than one.
Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.