Why You Should Care About Pair Programming, and How to Do It from Anywhere

Recently, Agile models have become the most popular choice for group project development. However, this is not the first time that programmers have worked together in this manner. Pair programming was first introduced in the early 1990s, when two programmers from Whitesmiths Inc. were observed working together on the same terminal. In response, Larry Constantine coined the phrase “Dynamic Duo” to express his excitement about the collaboration.

In 2023, James Coplien released ‘Two Heads are Better Than One’, which outlines the pair programming technique. The author delves into the historical context to explain the effectiveness of the approach.

It is a process that can benefit some projects more than others. To find out what it is and how it could be beneficial for your business, please read on.

When and Who Should You Use Pair Programming?

Pair programming is a widely used software development technique which involves two programmers working together at a single screen to accomplish a task. Software engineers often take turns in roles and review each other’s code collaboratively.

The most common method of pair programming separates the work into two (overlapping) parts:

  • The role of the “Driver” is to operate the computer and provide verbal guidance to the other party in order to achieve the desired outcome. This role does not require an understanding of the wider context.
  • The Navigator reviews the driver’s notes, with the aim of providing on-the-go code analysis and problem resolution. Additionally, the Navigator monitors any pressing issues or defects to determine the next steps.

The aim of pairing two programmers on one project is to leverage the advantages of both their analytical (navigator) and practical (pilot) approaches. Generally, software development, test-driven initiatives and educational projects to teach junior programmers are best suited to pair programming.

For What Reasons Is It Preferable to Programme in a Pair?

In February 2023, the Institute of Computer Science at the Free University of Berlin published a study assessing the effectiveness of pair programming. Drs. Franz Zieris and Lutz Prechelt conducted the research, analysing the pair programming sessions of 13 organisations.

According to their findings, there are two main factors that contribute to productive pair programming sessions:

  • When a working duo forms a common mental model, they are said to be “working together.”
  • Efficiency occurs when the couple strikes a balance between addressing pressing difficulties and working toward the session’s long-term objectives.

Many organisations are hesitant about pair programming due to the perception that it requires two programmers to achieve the same output as one. However, research demonstrates that the associated overhead is in fact closer to 15%, and the long-term benefits of pair programming outweigh this additional cost.

Although pair programming offers potential benefits to organizations, it can pose challenges when dealing with remote employees. Can this approach be applied to teams of remote programmers who may not be in the same physical location? Are the advantages of pair programming still applicable for businesses with remote workers?

Do You Support Remote Pair Programming?

Remote pair programming is an effective way to share knowledge, produce higher-quality code, and provide real-time reviews. It enables teams to quickly identify and resolve issues, ultimately improving customer satisfaction. The same advantages associated with in-person pair programming can be achieved with the appropriate resources and techniques.

A Variety of Techniques for Programming in Remote Pairs

Besides the driver-guider paradigm, several methods of pair programming exist for enhancing efficiency in the workplace:


This method is well-suited to Test-Driven Development projects. An organised division of labour can improve efficiency. To keep the process moving, the two programmers could take turns writing code and use the experience to inform their work.

Tough Complements

Knowledge and skill transfer are best achieved through strong pairing. For this to be successful, the navigator and driver must have complete trust in each other. A ‘learning by doing’ method which enables the two programmers to switch roles freely is key to the implementation of this strategy, rather than micromanagement.

The importance of managing time

Time management tools and strategies are key considerations when it comes to pair programming. The Pomodoro Technique is one such approach, which involves breaking down tasks into more manageable intervals of time (commonly 25 minutes). This allows both programmers to focus on each phase of the work and easily switch roles.

Rotating in Twos

When a member of a programming pair leaves, the remaining member becomes the Anchor and takes responsibility for onboarding the new team member. In the event of illness or extended leave, the existing team may work in pairs to expedite the development process and introduce fresh ideas.

Methods and Devices for Distant Cooperative Programming

Exchange at the End

The most common way to facilitate remote programming is through terminal sharing. Programmes such as tmux or wemux are used to enable multiple users to collaborate on the same project at the same time, by sharing the same terminal session. Secure Shell (SSH) protocols are used to ensure a safe connection to the remote server.

Sharing Your Screen

Screen sharing is an effective way of collaborating when working remotely. The ‘driver’ can write the code while the ‘navigator’ reviews it, all through a video call on software such as Zoom. There are also dedicated programs such as Microsoft Visual Studio Live Share and Motepair which enable simultaneous mouse-pointer editing of the same file.

Online Group Coding Revisions

Two developers can collaborate on the same code by utilising applications such as Remote Collab for SublimeText, Codeanywhere and CodeTogether. These cloud-based Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) or live-share plugins for a code editor allow them to view each other’s workspaces and observe changes in real-time. This facilitates efficient collaboration and ensures that both developers are on the same page when working on a project.

Pair Programming Has Several Benefits.


Pair programming provides a valuable opportunity to harness the combined knowledge of two individuals. Specialized skillsets can be used to complement one another and provide new perspectives on the problem at hand, leading to innovative solutions.

Effectiveness in Detecting and Fixing Coding Errors

Pair programming has the potential to be slower than other approaches, however, the benefits it provides in terms of quality and accuracy are worth the additional time investment. To ensure that the best results are achieved, it is important to review the work regularly rather than waiting until the end. This approach helps to reduce the need for re-work and saves time in the long run. Furthermore, with two programmers working on the project, there is more time available for quality checks and revisions.

Exchange of Information

Collaboration between colleagues can lead to a more efficient learning process than traditional instruction methods like training and lessons. Developers, regardless of whether they are working together in person or remotely, can gain considerable advantages from a culture of open communication and knowledge sharing. Additionally, it can foster junior mentorship and accelerate the onboarding process.

Distant Communication and Participation

Being part of a globally distributed team can be a lonely experience. However, it is a great way to build relationships with fellow developers and to foster a sense of teamwork. Additionally, when working with others, individuals are less likely to procrastinate and more likely to coordinate their efforts in order to ensure that everyone’s progress is not hindered.

Pair Programming’s Drawbacks


The advantages of utilising the pair programming methodology are evident, but it is important to be aware of the potential risks. When working remotely, delays in communication can be a common occurrence. This could lead to tasks becoming more complicated than necessary or having to repeat the same activity multiple times. However, this is a hurdle that can be easily overcome. As the team leader, it is important to monitor the progress of the team and provide guidance on how to get the job done efficiently.

Lack of Knowledge

One of the key advantages of this approach is the ability to easily share and apply knowledge gained. However, this is heavily dependent on the disparity between the skill sets of two programmers. For example, a team consisting of an experienced developer and a novice coder. The former being well accustomed to the system, while the latter having no prior experience but being well-versed in the most up-to-date programming languages. Each individual’s roles will focus on a variety of project goals. Both have the capability to work collaboratively. Nevertheless, transitioning between roles requires time and effort to adjust.

Activities Performed Independently

Code reviews conducted in real-time can increase productivity, but can also cause stress. When a third party is involved during coding, the two parties can become overwhelmed and drained. If you think that your developers would be more efficient working independently, they should be assigned tasks that they can complete in their own time.

The Cultural Collapse

It is important to remember that effective communication is essential for successful teams in remote working. Despite speaking the same language, it is not always enough to ensure understanding and collaboration between members. When engaging in pair programming, it is important to consider pairing developers who can communicate effectively and comprehend each other’s work. Arguing and misunderstanding will not allow any rewards to be reaped from this strategy.

Where Do I Go to Get Started with Remote Pair Programming?

It is essential to bear in mind the final disadvantage associated with this option for your business. The efficacy of pair programming is contingent on finding two individuals who are complementary to one another. Consequently, the initial step is to select individuals with the capacity to collaborate productively and communicate effectively in order to obtain the highest returns.

Once you’ve found your ideal team members, you can get started with remote pairing by following these steps.

Setup from a Distance

Remote pairing for real-time changes and keyboard swapping can be facilitated through the use of screen-sharing and collaboration tools. Jitsi and the Live Share plugin for Visual Studio Code, both open-source technologies, can be used for video conversations with remote control. Additionally, online collaborative visualisation tools should be made available to assist in the planning and design of video and audio systems.

Multiple Displays

It is not uncommon for software development to involve long hours of work, particularly when approaching deadlines. To ensure that productivity is not hindered by any technical issues, such as PC performance slowdowns, it is advisable to provide developers with at least two displays in order to maintain momentum.

Effective Remote Pair Programming

In conclusion, pair programming is an effective way of improving software and providing a successful trial of development projects. When given the correct tools and direction, developers can deliver a high-quality result and offer innovative solutions to issues. It is essential to ensure that the individuals you are working with are adequately skilled.

Recruiting for just one employee can be a challenge, so we understand how difficult it can be when there are two of you. That’s why we’re here to lend a hand. We can help you find suitable prospects who are willing to work together even before any interviews take place. Our remote, multilingual team can also help you identify the perfect developer for your needs. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us.

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