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Mark is a graph advocate and field engineer for Neo Technology, the company behind the Neo4j graph database. As a field engineer, Mark helps customers embrace graph data and Neo4j building sophisticated solutions to challenging data problems. When he's not with customers Mark is a developer on Neo4j and writes his experiences of being a graphista on a popular blog at He tweets at @markhneedham. Mark is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 547 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Pair Programming: “What are you trying to learn?”

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I’ve noticed recently that while pairing with various different people that I frequently ask my pair what they’re trying to learn through the approach that they’re about to take.

I tend to use it when I don’t really understand what my pair is doing and want to find out so that I can stay engaged.

It seems to be a more effective and less confrontational way of finding out than saying “What are you doing?” or “I don’t understand what you’re doing”.

There tend to be two outcomes from asking the question:

  • We were about to go on a yak shaving mission and that’s not been averted.
  • My pair was ahead of me, knew something that I didn’t and is now able to teach me that.

The following are some recent examples I can remember asking the question:

  • My pair was googling how to do something which didn’t seem directly related to what we were doing.
  • My pair was scrolling around files fairly rapidly and I wasn’t able to follow what they were doing

Of course this question is unnecessary if the driver is providing constant commentary about what they’re doing but it’s easy to forget that you have someone alongside you when you’re solving a problem.

Asking this question seems to be a reasonably effective way of keeping the pairing collaborative.



Published at DZone with permission of Mark Needham, author and DZone MVB.

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