D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

People Against Paired Programming Part 1: Smelly Troll Developers

Saturday, November 22, 2008 1:38 PM

So because of an oversight on my part using LiveWriter, Part 1 is being posted after Part 2. To recap, over at Aarron Erickson’s blog he got quite the response to his post about the marketing failure of XP and specifically Paired Programming (PP). Aaron, in his post, jokingly (although much truth is said in jest) talks about how PP will prevent developers from doing things like surfing the web or getting bothered by others, but he makes valid points that there are tremendous benefits to an organization that implements PP. The point of the entire post was making a comment on how we need to better market and educate people on what our practices really are and the benefits.

In my last post we looked at the Douchebags. In this post, we look at the Smelly Troll Developers who also pelted Aaron’s blog with their own comments. Consider the following:

If I had to be locked in a cube with someone else for 8+ hours a day I'd have a hard time getting up and going to work in the morning. 

What a miserable way to spend the day.


Pair programming doesn't consider basic human psychology. If programmers were robots, it might work ok. But in reality, programmers are (usually) anti-social, egotistical, introvertive humans. The reason many programmers even get into computers to begin with is a natural tendency to shy away from social interaction. This is a gross generalization, but statistically relevant.


Ah yes, the arguments from the smelly trolls: those that continue to promote the exact stereotype that “cc” describes in his comment.

The reality here in 2008 is that information technology professionals need to be more than just good coders. Over and over again I’ve heard companies and organizations say that they’re looking for more than just technology skills in a candidate, but also whether they can work effectively in a team, whether they can be presentable and communicate with clients, and whether they’re teachable and willing to learn beyond their current level of understanding.

Developers today need to be social…they need to be willing to step out of their comfort zone and try to engage co-workers, colleagues, and peers. They need to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, and be teachable.

The comments left by these Trolls aren’t really about Paired Programming…oh no. These are comments that are driven by deeper seeded issues: self confidence, acceptance, trust, etc. Luckily Trolls are also at a stage where this can be reversed…as some will undoubtedly become the douchebags of our industry years later. Here are some things you can do to ensure a troll free workplace:

Embrace an Environment of Trust

Trolls thrive when their environment forces them to be defensive. Defensiveness comes when you have a workplace that doesn’t promote trust between co-workers. By trust, I don’t mean in the “I know you won’t steal my stapler” kind of way. I mean trust in the “I can ask a question and know that I won’t be demeaned for asking it.”. Your team needs to be a team, and you need to know that everyone is truly concerned about the team succeeding, not just individuals.

Embrace an Attitude of Learning

Everyone, regardless of age, experience, and IQ, can learn. Everyone can offer something that someone else may not have known before. Creating an attitude of learning means removing an attitude of elitism and encouraging knowledge sharing. Paired Programming is one way that this can happen: two people working on a problem together, learning from each other while finding a solution.

Embrace a No Asshole Rule

The reality is that some people just aren’t teachable, have too much baggage, and no matter what will not be a productive member of your team. Such is life, and such are the decisions individuals make to enable that life. If you want a great guide for implementing this and the thoughts behind the NAR, check out the book by Robert Sutton of the same name.

When I hear people make comments against certain development practices (in this case Paired Programming), and their comments are like the ones above or like this one (also from Aaron’s blog comments):

Having a person sat next to me seems to leave almost all my brain occupied with "aargh! a person is sitting next to me! am I breathing annoyingly? what is he thinking? am I boring him? can he smell me? I know I showered, but..." and a similar tailspin of utterly productivity-destroying thoughts. There is nothing that works for everybody, and pair programming, for me, would be a resigning issue - simply because I'd rather resign now than go on the sick, ragged from unbearable stress, in three weeks, never to return.

you have to consider who it is posting, and where they’re coming from. For those that are still at the Troll level, seen as anti-social and untrusting, there’s still much that can be done to turn them into better developers. But it takes two very important pieces:

- A team and environment that fosters that development
- A person willing to step out of their comfort zone and make a change for the better.

All of us have to decide what role we’ll play in preventing our industry from falling into the hands of the Douchebags.



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