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      The author leads with “People working in other industries should probably not be miserable at work either, but that is not the concern of this article”. About that:

      I spent my 20s working almost-min-wage jobs in kitchens and grocery stores, working as many as 3 jobs (opening + prep work in a cafe in the early morning, cook in a restaurant in the afternoon and evening, and bus dishes on the weekend) and various side hustles to pay for a small room in a crowded house in South Berkeley (~approx 11 other people were living there), with not much hope in sight for anything different.

      Sometimes nowadays I find myself getting frustrated with e.g. some of the nasty proprietary or legacy tech I have to work or interface with. But while this work can sometimes feel like slogging through filth, I’ve worked jobs where I literally had to slog my way through actual filth – and this is very far from that. As a knowledge worker, you generally have autonomy and respect and flexibility that is completely unheard of to even a lot of white collar workers, let alone folks toiling away doing physically demanding work for minimum wage. Not to mention you probably won’t deal with the kinds of psychological abuse and unsafe conditions that are part and parcel with many of those lower-wage jobs

      Which isn’t to say that tech workers shouldn’t aim to improve their conditions further or try to have more fun at work or that we should put up with bullshit simply because others have it worse – It’s essential that we protect what we have and improve it and even enjoy ourselves. But I do think that tech workers often miss how dire things are for other folks, especially folks working low-wage, manual jobs, and it would be nice to see more recognition of the disparity in our circumstances

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        I grew up in a restaurant and spent some time working as a bus boy. It really grinds my gears when you go out for a meal with a coworker and they complain about the service. “How hard could it be to get my order right?” Why don’t you work in a restaurant for a couple years and find out! Or when people assume scaling a restaurant is as easy as adding a load balancer and a couple more servers (pun not intended, but appreciated).

        Some people have never worked in the service industry and it really shows.

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          I resonate really hard with this, I’ve come back several times to try to write a reply that isn’t a whole rant about people in tech but:

          I’ve done a bunch of not so sexy jobs (legal and not so much, I’ll leave those out): retail, restaurants in various positions, and I was even one of those street fundraisers for the children (where I was subject to physical violence and the company’s reaction was “it comes with the job”). Now I work tech full time, and I’m a deckhand when I’m not doing that.

          My perspective is shaped by a couple things, I think:

          • Being born to teenage parents who worked similar jobs and struggled for a long time

          • The fact that they “raised me right” – if I talked to / treated anyone the way I’ve seen some folks I’ve met in this industry do to service workers / people they seem to consider as “below them”, they wouldn’t be having any of it

          • Actually working the jobs and being subject to the awful treatment by both customers and management

          The thing is, though, is that I really don’t think you should have to go through any of this in order to just not be a jerk to people…I really don’t know what the disconnect is. The most difficult customers I’ve had (at previous jobs and on the boat) have typically been the ones that seem the most privileged. When it comes to restaurants, the cheapest ones (in terms of tipping) were similarly the people that would come in and order hundreds of dollars worth of food and then leave little to no tip (I’m not here to debate tipping culture, it is what it is here at this point).

          I’ve had situations where I take people to a place where I’m cool with the staff and someone picks up the tab (for which I’m appreciative) but then they are rude / pushy / skimp out on the tip, which is really embarrassing to say the least (I don’t hesitate to call people out but I feel like … I shouldn’t have to?)

          The boat I work on is in the bay area and so we get a lot of tech people, and a couple of things stand out:

          • I don’t really know how some of the most intelligent people can be so dumb (literally all you need to do is follow directions)

          • They talk down to us (the crew trying to put them on fish and, for what it’s worth, keep them alive – won’t get into that here), and when you ask them not to do something for safety or you try to correct something they’re doing wrong, they get an attitude. I want to emphasize, not everyone, but enough to make you stop and ask why.

          • When they find out that I also work in tech (you talk to people since you’re with them for 8+ hours), the reaction is typically one of “why do you need to be doing THIS?”. Sidenote – the most hilarious thing that I enjoy doing is dropping into a technical conversation (a lot of people come on with their coworkers) and having people be like “wtf how does the deckhand know about any of this?”

          • They don’t tip … lol … or they stiff us for fish cleaning which we are upfront is a secondary service provided for a fee.

          It’s not everyone, but I get a pretty decent sample size given the population here. The plus side of working on the boat (vs a restaurant or retail) is that if someone starts being a major a-hole the captain doesn’t mind if we stand up for ourselves (encourages it, even)

          It’s not everyone of course, but it’s enough to make you wonder.

          Some people have never worked in the service industry and it really shows.

          Yeah, exactly. Or, we have a saying “you can tell whose never pushed a broom in their life”.

          That was more of a rant than I wanted to get into but since I’m here it was kind of cathartic. I really just wish people would stop and think about the human on the other end. Of course it’s not just tech people that do things like this, but … yeah.

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            I’ve done a bunch of not so sexy jobs (legal and not so much, I’ll leave those out)

            I worked in eDiscovery for a while (~3 years) so I have a sense of legal. It’s very stratified and stressful. I remember going to bed at 2 AM and waking up at 5 AM to make sure that a production was ready for opposing counsel. Not ideal…

            My perspective is shaped by a couple things, I think:

            Being born to teenage parents who worked similar jobs and struggled for a long time

            By contrast, my father was 39 when he had me. However, he had a hard life. He grew up in Francoist Spain. (One of the few memories of my grandfather was when he told me “La habre es miseria. La habre es miseria.” (Hunger is misery. Hunger is misery.)) My father was a Spanish refuge in France at age 9. He didn’t complete high school. Instead, he did an apprenticeship in a French restaurant where the chefs beat him. He worked 16 hour days for a long time.

            The fact that they “raised me right” – if I talked to / treated anyone the way I’ve seen some folks I’ve met in this industry do to service workers / people they seem to consider as “below them”, they wouldn’t be having any of it

            Absolutely. My father always said that everyone was welcome at his restaurant, regardless of what they were wearing. It’s important to respect everyone.

            Inter-generational trauma is a real thing. I’m doing okay, but my brothers didn’t fare so well. (A topic for a more one on one conversation.) I hope you are okay. <3

            Edit: this has really thrown me through a loop. I don’t mean to be dramatic and I know this is a public forum, but I’m sure there are more people posting than responding. If it means anything to anyone then it’s more important to say so than to be stoic. I hope you are all doing okay.

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              I worked in eDiscovery for a while (~3 years) so I have a sense of legal. It’s very stratified and stressful. I remember going to bed at 2 AM and waking up at 5 AM to make sure that a production was ready for opposing counsel. Not ideal…

              Heh, sorry I meant legal vs not-so-legal in the legality sense, but in any case wow that sounds dreadful!

              I appreciate your kind words and you sharing your story, and I’m glad you’re doing okay. I’m also sorry to hear about your brothers, similar thing is true for some of my siblings…kind of weird how that works.

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              Thank you for sharing this.

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              I meant to write “more people reading than responding” above, but I’m out of the edit window.

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            There is a theory in some circles that states that having money enable people to not have to care about other human beings. With money you can feel like you provide for all your needs by just buying stuff and services. If you don’t have so much money, you need to compensate by trying to build mutual understanding. That leads to being more empathic. You also need to respond or even anticipate the needs of people who give you money. Which leads also to some kind of asymmetric empathy (similar to impostor syndrome). Also there may be the fact that some people are attracted to tech because they fell they are more gifted with machines than with people. So maybe some form of selection bias here too.

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        I like to remind my team something that I was once told: “Remember, this work lets us have soft hands.”

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          Always reminds me of that scene in Trading Places (the “soft hands” part is cut off at the beginning).

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        Well put. I sometimes ask myself, “How many people are living miserable lives so that I can sit in a cushy chair and think about interesting problems?”

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          How many people’s misery could you alleviate by switching to a different job and how would that happen?

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            Well, I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry, so I helped keep lots of people’s heat working in the winter, including my own. At the cost of making the world incrementally more fucked though, so that one’s a net negative. I’ve done a fair amount of teaching, so I helped share skills that were useful for people. I’ve worked datacenter tech support, so I helped lots of people keep their online businesses working. So there’s that.

            If I really wanted to make the world a better place, I would either work for something like Habitat For Humanity and build houses, or I would get a PhD in nuclear physics or material science and try to make better nuclear/solar energy sources. Or become a teacher, natch, but my sister and both parents are teachers so I feel like I have to break the family mold. Could always do what my grandmother did and become a social worker. Or go into politics, because someone with a brain stem has to, but I’ve had enough brushes with administration to know that I will burn myself out and be of no use to anyone.

            Right now I work in robotics doing R&D for autonomous drones, so I’ll hopefully make peoples’ lives better somewhere, someday down the line. Nothing as good as what Zipline does, but on a similar axis – one of my most fun projects was basically Zipline except for the US Army, so it was 10x more expensive and 0.25x as good.

            …do people not normally think about this sort of thing?

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              Interesting, that’s not the way I interpreted cole-k’s comment!

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                …how did you interpret it?

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                  That there are people supporting cole-k’s job (I don’t know who, maybe car mechanics, cafeteria workers, janitors?) whose work is required for cole-k’s job to be possible, but who are necessarily miserable in their jobs.

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                    Yeah, and I’ve done at least a moderate share of supporting them back one way or another, within the bounds of my aptitudes, skills, and how selfish I’m willing to be – and honestly I’m pretty selfish, ngl. Sometimes I’ve done it directly by serving them back, more often indirectly by trying to do things that Benefit Everyone A Bit. All I can do is keep trying. We’re all in this together.

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        This should not be controversial, and sometimes I wish I had a button to teleport some of my colleagues where I used to work in Africa to recalibrate their sense of what “hard” means.

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        This is so true. I try to remind myself of this as much as I can but as I did not experience minimum wage work myself this can be hard to be fully aware of this situation. Maybe we should try for the condition of everybody to improve. I fear that by insisting a lot on the good conditions we have in the tech industry it would only encourage a degradation on those conditions unfortunately. Tactically, I wonder if we should not focus on the commonalities of the issues we face across all the different types of jobs.

      6. 2

        I also paid for college and university working in a large hotel kitchen and then dining room. At the time in the front of the house I could earn enough in tips over a summer to cover a year of state school tuition plus room and board. I’d go back on holidays and long weekends to make the rest of my expenses. It was hard work, long hours, and disrespected in all kinds of ways. Once in a while there was violence or the threat of violence. But it beat doing landscaping or oil changes and tires. There were a number of us who were using it as a stepping stone, one guy from Colombia worked until he saved up enough to go back home and buy a multi-unit building so he and his parents could live in it and be landlords, get a used BMW for himself, and finish his education. His motivation, and taking extra shifts, made mine look weak and I was highly motivated.

        I remind myself of that time when I’m frustrated at my desk.

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          Colombia, or do you mean he was studying at Columbia?

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            Typo. Fixing.

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          one guy from Colombia worked until he saved up enough to go back home and buy a multi-unit building so he and his parents could live in it and be landlords

          This I think was one of Bryan Caplan’s arguments about open borders.

          In addition to the moral issue that no-one has the right to curtail the free movement of others[1], there is solid empirical evidence that not only do immigrants enrich the countries they emigrate to (i.e. contribute more on average than locals), they often also help lift their home countries out of poverty by doing exactly what your Colombian friend did.

          Edited to add: here’s his address on the topic of poverty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K77cGFU36rM

          [1] One frequently occurring example of hypocrisy on the matter of travel: people who simultaneously rail against any attempt by their own Government to control their movement (passports, papers, ID, etc.), but also complain loudly about people crossing the border into “their” country and demand the Government build a wall, metaphorically or literally.

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      A big factor many juniors don’t see is sometimes its not you, but your team/company. It can do wonders to be in an environment where thoughtfulness & mental health is respected.

      In my experience, the most motivating way to learn is gaining to the confidence to believe you can learn & be great at your job. Unfortunately unless you already have that, it’ll be really hard among the wrong team.

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        I cannot agree more ! If only more people running companies could see it is also very well in their best interest !

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        I constantly have imposter syndrome, always have. It doesn’t help that the rest of my team is really smart.

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          I have it too. Also surrounded by very smart people! I feel that being self taught at programming played a role in having impostor syndrome too. And now I wonder if this is not an hint our mind try to give us that we should help each other more learn more things in the trade ?

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      Work doesn’t have to be fun. It can be work and it can be just, well, fine. Learning doesn’t have to be fun. I recently learned some stuff about woodworking. It was not fun. It wasn’t unpleasant either. It was fine.

      The insistence that others have some specific experience while working is something we must collectively stop doing. People should not be miserable at work but they also should not feel like they are failing if they aren’t having fun or that management is failing if the employees aren’t having fun.

      To require that work instill some particular mental state and particular feeling is kinda weird to me.

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        To require that work instill some particular mental state and particular feeling is kinda weird to me.

        And to me, foisting this “mob programming” nonsense and gamification stuff on people is truly dystopian. I often do my best work in deep thought, alone. It can help to bounce ideas off someone, but seriously, mob programming? That just results in quality that the lowest common denominator could put in. And gamification feels downright manipulative (like the “stars and badges” bullshit that GitHub puts in to increase “engagement”).

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          I agree with your point on deep thought. I see it more as complimentary to mob. As with the group you can confront your deep thought to the ones of others and get even better thought.

          I also agree that there is some trend in the “gamification” movement that feel quite manipulative. It does make me uneasy too. There is also some technics that come from neuro-science that could be qualified as some sort of gamification but do not feel manipulative to me. It just leverages some properties of the human mind.

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            Fair enough. But keep in mind that this gamification would be done by the employer, where there’s a strong power imbalance. Anything done that could construed as manipulative will be seen as such by at least some people, and that’s not a good look for an employer either.

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              Yes, people would be absolutely right to be wary of this kind of move. I can imagine some set-up in some healthy organizations where this kind of ideas could be implemented by employees themselves. Given they have enough autonomy to do so and psychological safety and so on.

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        What I am trying to say, is not that it would be required. Just that it helps if you can. And it would help our bosses too. I do not want to inflict guilt on people that do not feel that way. I certainly do not feel that way quite often.

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      I greatly dislike the implication that I am personally failing to ensure my happiness because I do not spend enough time learning. It’s like a double insult.

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        Oh I am really sorry you felt this way by reading the article ! Maybe I should have stressed more in the article that this is not necessarily a personal choice but the organisation you work in may block you from apply this recommendation.

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      A career counselor I once spoke with said she suggests people consider these four factors when evaluating work:

      1. Values
      2. Interests
      3. Skills
      4. Personality

      The amount of each one you are missing will generally decrease your engagement.

      I think this article touches on values (learning) and interests (games/learning), but leaves out other things. There are many people who value stability over learning and will be amazingly engaged without that aspect.

      I would go at it from a different direction. Are you disengaged with work? Maybe you should consider your largest interests, skills, values, and personality traits and find a job that fits it, or learn to engage with your current job because of those things. “I really love my job because I can trust that I will be able to get a new one in this industry with the experience I am gaining. It gives my family stability and I highly value that over interesting or easy work. I probably wouldn’t do this when I retire, but I think I have more of a chance of retiring if I stay in this industry.” That person may be more engaged than anyone else.

      This is one of the big things about the gamification movement, it only deals with interests and maybe personality.

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        Thanks so much for the feedback ! I find it very interesting. It broadens my point of view on the subject. I think I totally agree with you. I am not sure what you mean by your third point about skills ? People are not engaged if they are not skilled for their task ? I would answer that the idea of the article is that all other things being equal we should encourage people to feel a little more joy in their work. And it is in the interest of people signing the pay check too. Maybe it did not very well go through my writings. The exercise is a bit new to me and I am not an English native speaker.

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          Yep, I don’t know if this model of satisfying work is better than yours. It may be overcomplicated for what most folks want.

          For point 3, if you were interested your job’s field, felt like it was doing really good things in the world, and it fit your personality, you would still have a problem if you didn’t know how to do it well. I think your model actually touches on this with learning. An example for me is when I really started using vi for more than simple single pane text editing, it really helped large parts of my job feel more satisfying. I want fighting with expressing myself because I had developed a skill.

          There are some vocational education systems out there that just focus on the skills area. You need to know X, Y, and Z to be a petroleum engineer. You learn that at a university. You apply that for the next 30 years with a little mentoring and continuing education thrown in there. But generally, you need to know 90% of what is taught in university or else you’re not going to have fun at that type of job.

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      While this certainly fits with my experience, what about people who don’t get joy from programming, don’t want to learn new stuff, don’t find the puzzle fun?

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        Maybe they are in the wrong industry, i don’t think anyone is happy at a job that sucks the fun out of life

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          Im not sure people are in general expected to be happy in their job? So long as it pays the bills?

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            I find it hard to imagine a professional football player that doesn’t or at least didn’t for a substantial amount of time in the past like playing football. I also can’t do the same for an influential physics professor. I’m willing to believe that not all jobs are equal in this sense. I have a burning passion for programming and I still have to push myself hard in order to endure the mental pain of trying to align a hundred stars and solve difficult programming challenges. I can’t imagine how one could motivate oneself to suffer that 8 hours a day without feeling the kind of joy that comes with finding the solution.

            It’s hard to describe this to non-programmers, but I believe I have the right audience here. Programming is a very stressful job. Not stressful like a surgeon or a stock broker who get stressed due to what’s at stake, but stressful because you have to push yourself to your limits to turn your brain into a domain specific problem solving apparatus and find the solution.

            BTW, I know that there are a lot of programming jobs out there which don’t resemble what I’m describing here at all, but I know that there are jobs like this too, but we don’t have a different name for them.

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              I have a burning passion for programming and I still have to push myself hard in order to endure the mental pain of trying to align a hundred stars and solve difficult programming challenges.

              There is so much programming out there where you do some boring crud service on some db or where you assemble 4 different json blobs in a different format and pass it to the next microservice or cloud endpoint. That’s not truly exciting or challenging.

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                I know that and I respect those jobs and programmers, but as I’ve mentioned some programming jobs require constant puzzle solving and creativity. I think my comment would be more agreeable if I said “compiler engineer” or “game AI engineer” or “database engineer”, but I don’t know of any term that can be used about those jobs collectively. Maybe we need a term like “R&D programmer” or maybe I should just have said “R&D engineer” and decoupled my point from programming per se.

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            I think most people strive for being happy in their jobs, but yes the main factor for having one is to not starve or be homeless

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              I’ve seen clock-in clock-out devs who didn’t give a shit about anything they did. Took no joy nor pride in their work. They were government contractors and so they did the absolute least possible (and least quality) that the gov asked for and would accept, and no more. They didn’t seem to care about what they got personally out of their jobs, they seemed to think it was normal. Drove me nuts, quit the company in 6 months.

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                I had the exact same experience with some additional slogging through warehouses (cutting cardboard; I wish I were joking) and testing security hardware while waiting for a security clearance shortly after OPM got hacked (~6 months to get the clearance). Then to finally be surrounded by people warming their chairs, I couldn’t stand it. I understand the need to have stability in your job but pride is also important, at least to me.

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          It depends on why you do it. Let’s not forget that programming is a very well paid profession. Maybe you use the good salary to finance the life-style you want to have (buy a house/appartment, have kids, maybe expensive hobbies). I can certainly imagine a more fun place to work than my current job, but the pay is very good. Therefore I stay because it enables my family and me to have the live we want.

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            Thanks, that is very interesting points. Indeed, I think there is a lot of reasons to take the job beside fun and this is very respectable. On the other end, I would state that people having fun doing it get a better chance at performing and improve their skills on the long run.

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              That is interestingly quite controversial in the research and we have solid data pointing to both.

              Note also that not having fun does not equate to sucking your soul out of you.

              Being meh about a job is ok. That is the case of nearly everyone.

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                Thanks so much for the reply ! It would be so nice if you could point me to some of this research !

    7. 5

      Pretty much liked it, tho it lost me at “…introducing other humans to the game”.

      1. 2

        Thanks for the feedback. It would be very interesting to me to understand why I lost you ? Did you not agree with the point ? Or maybe it was not so clear ? I was trying to touch at pair/ensemble programming technics and offer another point of view about why it can be interesting practices.

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          In my (fairly limited) experience doing pair programming, you need right tools to be able to actually enjoy doing it. A while ago we pair programmed some Unreal Engine Blueprints with a coworker and it was terribly boring, because one of us was just looking at the other’s screen and the other one was throwing in suggestions on what to do, what could be the bug, etc. My experience as the person looking was that I was just tired and bored of looking at them not doing what I wanted to try. The coworker felt the same when we did it the other way (ie. when I was doing the programming and they were the one looking.)

          I’m sure pair programming can be fun with tools that make it more like playing a multiplayer game (where each one of us has authority over their actions and we can work independently,) but screen sharing does not work like this and unfortunately most editors we use at work do not have a “multiplayer mode” like that.

          1. 1

            I agree you need good tooling. You also can do with some changes in the practices. For instance a simple “hack” to avoid feeling what you describe in your experience is to switch keyboard regularly (every 5 or 10 minutes). That can change the dynamic of the session as you are more periodically more engaged. Also being more than two changes a lot the dynamic of the conversation.

            1. 1

              I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “switching keyboards.” We do the pair sessions remotely so switching places with the coworker isn’t possible, and shuttling files between each other would be quite a nightmare due to exclusive checkout (Unreal Blueprints are binary files and only one person can be editing them at a time, this is a restriction imposed at the VCS level) unless you literally mean unplugging my current keyboard and switching to a different one every 10 minutes?

              1. 1

                Ah ah not unplugging the keyboard no. Sorry I was not aware of the specifics of unreal blueprints. What I meant was switching the driver and navigator roles that are common in pairs. The driver being the one actually typing and the navigator the one indicating the next change to implement. Even if you have restrictions with your tooling maybe you can go around this issue by doing very small changes (micro-commit ?). Sorry, I am not sure I do not know much about your set-up.

        2. 1

          In my opinion, when you introduce some kind of human aspect in programming, it becomes more a social activity and less technical. I like to focus on the technical side, it gives me the feeling of flow and -success. Dealing with people is hard for me (you may have guessed, I’m not that sociable type) therefore I don’t like it.

          Other things is: https://lobste.rs/s/yrc59x/allergic_waiting :) Sometimes even my hands are struggling to keep up with my thoughts. I can’t demand that (not even near) from an other human being. So I expect to be held back.

    8. 4

      Programming and learning are fun – just so long as I get to pick the goals and set the pace.

      It really doesn’t have to be fun though. I don’t mind prioritizing it as a job over the more important work I could be doing, so long as it’s for quite a lot of money.

    9. 2

      Pairing and mob programming are absolutely fun, but also intense and really productive. Watch this space for another blog post :)

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