Agile 2009: Debugging Pair Programming & Impact of Gender

August 25, 20092 min

Mat Wayne ran an interesting session about overcoming resistance to pair programming organized around personas.  On each table there was a description of a different persona and some ideas on why that persona might resist pair programming.  Our job was to discuss in groups why the persona was resisting pair programming and some ideas on how to overcome the resistance.

I tried to make the case that gender differences was an important consideration in resistance to pair programming.  In a room full of (mostly) men, it was hard to be taken seriously, especially after the few women in the room were pretty vocal opposing my viewpoint.  However, I think the people in that room\conference self-selected to be interesting in pair programming.  The sample was biased toward ignoring the impact of gender on pair programming.  Remember, the purpose of the session was to help people who do not want to do pair programming to become more interested in it.

After talking with some friends, I think there are more gender dynamics at play when men and women work together programming and some of these might explain why women are not interested in (pair) programming.

  • Pair programming requires two people to work in close proximity.  Some women might not feel comfortable sitting less than two feet from a male co-worker for most of the day or not be interested in the unwanted attention from men.
  • Male programmers have a really strong geek hierarchy thing going on.  The more uber-geek you are, the more status you have and the bigger your voice on the Team.
  • Get more than three men together and you begin to create a “locker room culture” that is a normal part of male bonding.  This is often characterized by seemingly harsh, personal put downs of your ideas by your peers.

I don’t think any one of these things is a definitive cause, but I do believe they add up and discourage women from participating on programming teams.  As coaches, we need to be mindful of gender and provide a safe environment.  It is not that women need extra help, just men need to be reminded to act like adults.