Mob Programming

| posted in: programming  pair 

I spent the better part of two work days this week mob programming. Solo programming is easy, you and a computer, and your favorite text editor. Pair programming (which I have never done) sounds like it would be interesting. Two minds, two differing approaches, one problem. Done right, it could be very empowering. Mob programming is what happens when there are three, four, and even five people on the Zoom call, watching one person “drive” and offering ideas, suggestions, and feedback.

I found it exhausting. It was very easy to lose track of the current thread, of the current approach to solving the problem. Depending on who was driving at the time it was very difficult to keep up with what they were doing. (Imagine an editor with 5 open tabs, each titled “UNNAMED” that the person is jumping back and forth between.)

We ultimately resolved the issue, but not efficiently, and not in a reproducible way. Maybe not reproducing it is actually a plus. I think with two, or maybe three people, you can focus on a problem and make steady progress. If one member of the group gets too close to the tree, at least one other person and pull them back to see the forest. Somehow with four people, and also with five, you end up with scattered approach. Two or three forests aren’t being seen for two or three trees.

If I find myself headed into a similar situation-two of us working and deciding to bring in another for assistance-I think the designated driver needs to be very up-front about directing what is going on. I also think it would help if the driver narrated what they were doing, even to the point of saying things like, “I’m going to open a new tab to pull up this code …”.

No more mob programming for me.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.