Pairing across Skill Levels without the Drama

Explore problems encountered by junior and senior developers when pair-programming together and how to solve them.

Short sketches interspersed wi


Pairing junior and senior developers on tasks is seen by many organisations as a mutually beneficial learning and mentoring practice. However, learning and successful mentoring are often mixed with frustration, disengagement and stalled progress. These difficulties are usually not acknowledged by the organisations and by the developers themselves.

Together with the audience we will look at a range of problems encountered when pair-programming across skill levels, analyse causes and effects of pairing "sins" committed by senior and junior developers, and explore physical, technical and organisational impediments and solutions. These will range from the obvious and easily solvable, such as disengagement caused by bad physical space, to the more subtle and often overlooked issues related to self-esteem and experts' amnesia as to the process by which they acquired their expertise.

Audience background

Developers, team leads, project managers, ...
Any level of experience.

Benefits of participating

To learn how to more effectively pair programmers of different skill levels and seniority.

Materials provided



The material will be be presented as a series of short sketches interspersed with commentary and audience participation. The presenters will act out at request of the audience and with the help of a few props.

After each scenario we will:

* Ask audience to notice any differences
* Ask audience to suggest further improvements, and capture these on a flipchart or whiteboard
* Share our own experience of tackling the challenge

The session will conclude by summarising the main challenges of pair-programming across skill levels and some key practical tips on how to tackle them.

We will share the summary and audience suggestions captured during the session with the rest of the conference and wider community online.

Detailed timetable

00:00 00:05 Intro & meet the cast Length of a SPA session
00:05 00:10 Sketch 1
00:10 00:15 Discuss failings & reasons (Capture failings and reasons as post-its or cards on a whiteboard)
00:15 00:20 Sketch 2
00:20 00:25 Discuss failings & reasons
00:25 00:30 Sketch 3
00:30 00:35 Discuss failings & reasons
00:35 00:40 Cluster failings by common topic
00:40 00:55 Solution brainstorming: each table takes a cluster, brainstorms solutions and captures in poster form
00:55 01:15 Present back to the group


Problems with pairing collected during the session, and posters of solutions to specific questions:



The ideas presented in this workshop have been presented at XProLo and XP2016 and sparked much constructive discussion on the topic of pairing across skill levels. This is a new format hoping to make the material more accessible and garner more input from the audience. Amateur dramatics will guarantee at least a few laughs -- hopefully for the right reasons! Most importantly, it will break the ice to facilitate a fun, engaging and highly interactive session.


  1. Irina Tsyganok
  2. Nat Pryce
    Technemetis Ltd.