This discussion is a response to s1369981’s post, “Why Pair Programming is the Best Development Practice?”
In their post, the author tries to convince the reader of the benefits of pair programming, highlighting the positives that this agile developmental style brings, such as, increased knowledge sharing and project ownership, stating that:
“Pairing is about collaboration and teamwork, thus it will shine… [in] knowledge sharing and project ownership…”
Although, despite the author’s arguments, I’m not completely convinced of their stance, mostly due to the, exaggerated, claim that pair programming is the overall best development practice in all scenarios of programming development.
I think that while there are certain situations when it can be beneficial, (between two novices) extending this to every programming situation is not significantly justified.
The author doesn’t see this because they neglect to address:
- The economic downfalls of the practice.
- Developers’ natural opposition to this working style.
- The fact programming might not be so mundane, if you enjoy where you’re working.
These counter arguments that I present will show that the author has failed to consider these important points in their article and that they’ve been too general in their argument that pair programming is the best development practice for all situations.
But Work is Boring?
In the post, s1369981 makes certain claims, that I’m not particularly in agreement with, such as:
“… most programming tasks in a software company will focus on boring and repeatable tasks with very few of them being creative and challenging.”
This pessimistic view of what the programming world after university is like tends to suggest that the only hope for a programmer to have an enjoyable time is to pair up, therefore distracting you from your “boring and repeatable tasks”.
This solution of improving your enjoyment at your job would only ever be a temporary one, as the novelty of pair work wears off.
Finding a more exciting company according to your personal tastes in programming would help you to enjoy you work more, without needing the distraction of a partner to making it bearable. Also, by simply increasing your communication amongst members in the team, working on different projects, would increase team spirit and cooperation and make it feel much less like you’re working on your own.
Speaking from personal experience, while on my internship, I found that instead of any pair programming scenarios, the newcomers (or contractors) to the team sought out the help of more experienced senior developers when stuck, rather than pairing up with them while programming.
This practice produced similar benefits of a senior developer working with a novice, in that the more experienced developer could pass on valuable knowledge and use their expertise without feeling restricted by having to effectively babysit this new employee.
This also left the senior developer with time to apply their invaluable knowledge elsewhere by programming solo, where they would be able to maintain their high productivity. 
As mentioned before, having a pair programming situation amongst two novices or a novice and someone who is competent would be helpful because, on their own, they’d undoubtedly have a low production levels but together they can boost their learning levels and this allows new recruits to get up to speed quickly. 
Something not mentioned in the author’s article is the economic viability of mass pair programming, as the team would need to have more employees to manage the same amount of projects.
In controlled studies it was found that it wasn’t economically viable as only for simple systems was a significant decrease in development time found and no significant difference in correctness of solutions. 
In fact, in this large empirical study, Arisholm et al. found that the results did not support the general consensus and that:
“… pair programming reduces the time required to solve tasks correctly or increases the proportion of correct solutions.”
Instead, they discovered that, in general, there is an 84% increase of effort required from the programmers to perform the tasks prescribed correctly, where effort (or cost) is the total programmer hours spent on the task.
These empirical results give us a more concrete measure of the benefits of pair programming amongst a variety of levels of programmer and I believe this evidence to be more reputable than remarks from people who’ve tried out pair programming, as this is open to bias.
The findings back up the reasoning that for a team to be operating at the same level as they are currently, managing as many different projects as they are, they’d have to hire more employees to maintain this level of output even when the benefits of pair programming aren’t so great.
It ain’t all fun
The author’s conclusion takes a simplified view of the situation by suggesting it should be adopted because:
“Pair Programming is the best development practice, because it is fun!”
But as suggested earlier in the article, by the author, there is a lot of strong opposition to this with people arguing adamantly against this belief. 
So, certain people will not work well in pairs, no matter how many statistics or studies you throw at them and I believe that if it is going to be used in a team, it should be tried out for a certain period where productivity can be monitored.
As mentioned and described by s1369981, people should be also be educated in how to properly undertake the pair programming developmental process if they’re going to be working with it and this can help to eliminate common mistakes and incorrect assumptions made about the practice.
Once the practice has been carried out correctly, the management can get feedback from it both empirically and from the developers who tried it so that they can make a reasoned decision on whether it is a viable option for your team.
Here, developer input should be considered closely because regardless of whether it makes your programmers more productive, making them uncomfortable in their work environment will cause some people to quit.
There are some points in s1369981’s article that I agree with, such as, the fact that pair programming can increase knowledge sharing and project ownership in a team.
However, the application of pair programming to all forms of development is an overstretch due to the economic downfalls, some developers being opposed to paired work and the argument that only pair programming can make your job enjoyable.
I do believe that it still has its place e.g. between two novices in a company or for complex tasks, as it can help to improve correctness of code, but bear in mind that this comes at a price: overall increased effort.  
Therefore, any adoption of pair programming should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to see if it really is the “best development practice”.
 – Derek Neighbors, “Should Senior Developers Pair Program?”, November 2012, http://derekneighbors.com/2012/11/should-senior-developers-pair-program/ [Accessed on: 26th February 2014]
 – Erik Arisholm et al, “Evaluating Pair Programming with Respect to System Complexity and Programmer Expertise”, 2007, http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4052584 [Accessed on: 26th February 2014]
 – Matt Ervin, “Pair Programming (give it a rest)”, November 2013, http://peniwize.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/pair-programming-give-it-a-rest/ [Accessed on: 28th February 2014]