Pairing on Open Source09 Nov 2022
I came to love pairing after I hurt my hands and couldn’t type. I had to finish up the last 2 months of a graduate CS course without the ability to use a keyboard. I had never paired before but enlisted several other developers to type for me. After I got the hang of the workflow, I was surprised that even when coding in a language my pair had never written in (C or C++), they could spot bugs and problems as we went. Toward the end, I finished the assignments faster when I wasn’t touching the keyboard, than I was by myself. Talking aloud forced me to refine my thoughts before typing anything. It might be intimidating to try pairing for the first time, but as Ben puts “it’s just a way of working together.”
This Hacktoberfest, I started a Slack group for the ~350 early purchasers of my book How to Open Source. In the intake survey, they told me they wanted to learn more about pairing. When I think pairing, I think of Ben Orenstein, CEO of the pairing app tuple.app. I jumped on Twitter and asked if I could interview him for the group, and he agreed!
Listen in as we discuss the intersection of pairing and open source contribution. We’ll talk about how it’s different from regular pairing (or not), how to find people to pair with, and the best way to ask for help from a potential mentor.
In addition to talking about pairing in the group, we had developers who organized together to pair for Hacktoberfest. One made their first-ever contribution after their first pairing session. Then she wrote her first ever English blog post about the experience.
- Is pairing on open source different?
- How do you find people to pair with?
- Can you match people in a group to pair?
- Can developers of the same level pair?
- What research has been done on pairing?
- How would you introduce pairing into a team?
- tuple.app/oss - Free license for open source maintainers
- Can you pair on non-technical tasks?
- How do you initiate pairing sessions?
(If you find a glaring problem with the transcript you can send me a PR to https://github.com/schneems/schneems.)
Ben: Yeah, let’s rock.
Schneems: Well, welcome everyone. My name is Richard Schneeman, author of How to Open Source. Today I have Ben, the ceo. CEO or CTO?
Schneems: Ceo. All right. Yeah, the big guns of tuple.app. So tuple is an application for pairing. It’s my favorite application for pairing coincidentally. So you wanna say Hi Ben?
Ben: Yeah, I’m stoked to be here. Pairing was a huge game changer in my career and so I’m stoked to talk about this topic that made a big difference for me professionally.
Schneems: Awesome, Awesome. Well I am very happy to have you. I recently launched a book and in doing so, asked as some of the people who bought it, what they’re interested in. A lot of ‘em indicated that they are really interested in pairing, so hence inviting Ben. And so yeah, wanted to ask you a couple of questions. One of ‘em that came up is just kind of high level, hey, are there differences pairing on open source software versus proprietary software?
Ben: Probably not in the actual act of pairing, I would assume. I can’t think of any differences that would be there. I think it’s probably, you might see some differences in what it takes to get people to pair with you. I’m not quite sure the willingness of open source maintainers to pair with other contributors.
Schneems: Totally, totally. Yeah. I think and you kind of alluded to a little bit of as a maintainer, needing to balance your like, yes, you wanna train people up, but you also need to balance that with, well hey, am I ever gonna see this person again? So in order to pair you to be able to find people, it’s a little bit different in working in the open, working in open source have you ever seen any sort of pairing groups or have you seen any sort of patterns with either a people who say like, Hey, I have a thing I wanna share, or other people come to the table and say, Oh, I have a problem, or I need help with this. Just, or tips really in general for people looking for someone to pair with, but maybe they don’t necessarily have a pre-built pool.
Ben: It’s kind of a bigger question. I think the question of how do you find someone to pair with is a little bit like the question of how do you find colleagues or mentors? Perry is just a way of working together. It’s not a magical practice. It’s effective and it’s a big fan of it, but it’s not different than working with other people really. It’s just a type of working together. And so I think it really transposes to the question of how do I find great people to work with? And I think maybe a short answer to that is be worth working with. Be a friendly person, a productive person. Show some indications that you are going to be good to pair with, is probably a good way to start
Ben: It’s a weird thing. I’ve seen a lot of failed efforts here. I think it’s a pretty common programmer impulse to be like, I should build a site that matches pair people together that wanna pair programming. Cuz you could sort envision how the Apple work. And so a lot of programmers write it and I think it’s not a matching problem really
Schneems: There. A hundred percent. Yeah. I mean we’re definitely seeing that there’s actually a lot of engagement within the group with within Oktoberfest is just something to focus on, I feel like is a big thing. When you said that, I was like, Oh yeah, it’s like a contest. It’s like, yeah, who can pair the best? It’s who can be the most friendly
Schneems: That’s interesting. Yeah. Pairing contest. Yeah. And even one of the people in the group specifically called out and mentioned Focusmate. Have you ever heard of Focus Mate?
Ben: Yeah. That’s the thing where you go and you work with somebody kind of simultaneously, but separately,
Schneems: Right? Yeah. So for just everybody else, you log into the site and you just say, Hey, I need to focus. I need basically somebody to keep me accountable. It pairs you up with someone, I mean not pairs. It matches you with someone. There we go. And then you basically just sit there for a block of time. Well you both do work. And the idea is if you start playing on your phone or something, the other person would see. So it’s, it’s working in a cafe. So yeah. Good. You’re familiar with it. Somebody specifically was asking like, Hey, have you ever considered integrating with topple? And it, it’s back with the matching issue. Not super keen on that, like you said, as being a technology issue.
Ben: Yeah, I don’t believe that you’re gonna pair random strangers together and have it worked that well. You might occasionally have success there if you get people with similar values and goals, you have higher success rate I’m sure. I think you probably want to pair strangers. I think you need to have a human in the loop
Ben: Your group might be a good different, might be an exception. So we did do some. So when I was running Upcase for Thought bot, which is a educational developer training service I think we did do some matching of pairs and there was some success. I wouldn’t say it was resounding success, but there was pairing happening. People reported that it actually occurred. So I think it is possible within a group that has kind of self-selected and identified, I wanna learn this thing, I’m willing to invest this effort to do this
Schneems: Actually no labels and whatnot or same level or I don’t know. Are there any other than values and character traits and just connection, are there any other things to look for that might make a good pair, a good pairing setup or a good pairing pair?
Ben: Pair programming is a more social endeavor than almost most programming activities. It’s live real time code review a little bit. And so just in a code coder view, you have to be a little careful about how you say things and you have to maybe use more emoji like positive emoji and more air on the side of politeness and friendliness and happiness than you might otherwise.
Schneems: Right. Yeah. There’s just already a relationship. It’s not gonna be literally a different person when they show up to the
Ben: Yeah. Session.
Schneems: Yeah, that makes sense to me. So on the site you do have why pairing and there there’s sort a five second, five minute and maybe that’s not the delineation. One of the people in my group was asking if you know of any research in the world of pairing. So they were trying to bring pairing to their company and they’re basically just looking for more ammo, fire power like hey, we say pairing has done X, Y, and Z. Do you, you know of either a existing research or I don’t know, maybe ongoing research?
Ben: Yeah, if you Google scientific research into pair programming, our article is the top result I wrote. There’s not much is the short answer. So I wrote up what I found and it’s about six or so plausible studies that you could maybe say make a decent case for pairing
Schneems: To pair.com. Got
Ben: It. You try to justify this scientific, it feels like coming up with scientific research into programming productivity measures seems very hard to me.
Ben: What are their options?
Schneems: Yeah, yeah. Well it’s, You have a free trial period, right?
Ben: Yes, we do have a free trial. It doesn’t require a credit card card. So we see lots of our customers sign up as entry level developers or developers without a credit card. And then they try it and they like it and they ask someone high up the chain for permission to buy it and then become paid customers. But also and relevant to this group, I suspect, is that we give away the app for open source teams. So you can get a permanently free team if you are open source maintainers or working on open source and it’s just two.app/oss and fill out that form with what you’re working on. And we grant this to probably almost everyone that fills it out. So we leverage, we use a lot of open source software in our tool and our company is built on top of it. So we were very happy to give back to the OSS community in this way.
Schneems: And full disclosure, I am a recipient of this, a happy recipient of this program. And I think only so one, both people don’t need to have paid for, is that correct? Yeah. Okay. So it’s if you wanna pair with somebody who’s never done it, it’s they don’t have to make this big investment. If one person has a license, you can invite somebody else to pair with you.
Ben: Right? Exactly. Yep.
Schneems: Okay, cool. I think that helps ease that transition and gets to the heart of the, it’s like research maybe not, but it’s really, it’s how can we hit that ground running? How can we do more pairing? And I think to makes total sense to me. Have you ever heard of, I guess, pairing on non non-technical tasks or just almost like
Schneems: Writing an RFC or research or I guess you can speak to that.
Ben: I pair on non-technical tasks all the time every week. And this actually happens a lot at our company. A lot of non programming things happen on two sessions as a part of a pair. A lot of the benefit of pairing, there’s a lot of benefits of pairing that you get, even if there’s no code on the screen. So it’s often less boring to work on something or if something is boring, it’s less boring it’s less likely to be boring
Schneems: Things. Okay, cool. How do you initiate those conversations? Or do you just say, Hey, I’m working on this, somebody wanted somebody wanna do it with me?
Ben: Yeah yeah. Same sort of casual way. I have standing pairing meetings, kinda like you my calendar with people that I work with a lot. True. That’s probably true for a number of our employees as well. But yeah, I think there’s also just a lot of, there’s a fair amount of ad hoc pairing happening where someone just call somebody else, I’m like, Oh, this is tricky. Let me just call this person. And just they get a notification that I’m calling and there’s my screen and we start talking and it happens just kind of fairly fluidly and we’ve built a cult. Our culture is sort of steeped in this as you’d imagine making a pairing app for a living. Great. There’s a lot of pairing happening. Everyone’s expecting it. No one is shocked when you wanna do it with them. So that does a lot of work there.
Schneems: Cool. Very cool. Well yeah, I really appreciate you coming on board and answering some of the open source communities questions. So yeah, thank you Ben from couple.app.
Ben: Yeah, my pleasure. For.