We pair because it's fun

A really good day of pairing looks like this.

We pair because it's fun
Photo by Miguel Teirlinck / Unsplash

Very early on in this newsletter, I wrote an essay about pairing titled "The Mortifying Ordeal of Pairing All Day." That essay made a lot of people happy and a lot of people mad. I was pleased that people were happy, and I wasn't surprised that people were mad.

What did surprise me was why people were mad. I'd expected some people to be angry that I was being critical of pairing, and especially of a certain kind of pairing. There was some of that. More often I found that more people were angry about that essay because of this line, about pairing all day for years.

This was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, socially and emotionally, and it produced some great software.

There are a lot of people, it turns out, who hate pairing, and hate the idea that anyone could enjoy it, for any reason. And there are also people who read the rest of that essay and thought, "This person has Stockholm Syndrome. They are making excuses for an abusive system that hurt them."

And maybe there's some truth to that.

But pairing's also really fun.

Last summer I read The Body Keeps the Score. It's about post-traumatic stress, how it was conceived of and treated historically and how it's conceived of and treated now. Reading it was useful for me.

There's a section in it where it talks the relationship between trauma and rhythm, and especially, syncing up into a rhythm with other people.

Steve Gross used to run the play program at the Trauma Center. Steve often walked around the clinic with a brightly colored beach ball and when he saw angry or frozen kids in the waiting room, he would flash them a big smile. The kids rarely responded. Then a little later, he would return and "accidentally" drop his ball close to where a kid was sitting. As Steve leaned over to pick it up, he'd nudge it gently toward the kid, who'd usually give a halfhearted push in return. Gradually Steve got a back-and-forth going, and before long you'd see smiles on both faces.
From simple, rhythmically attuned movements, Steve had created a small, safe place where the social engagement system could begin to reemerge. In the same way, severely traumatized people may get more out of simply helping to arrange chairs before a meeting or joining others in tapping out a musical rhythm on the chair seats than they would from sitting in those same chairs and discussing the failures in their life.

I read that, and I thought about pairing.

A really good day of pairing looks like this.

I wake up feeling pretty good. I got enough sleep. I've been working on a problem I enjoy, and I'm looking forward to getting back into it. I have an easy commute, I eat breakfast, I say "hi" to a couple of friends.

I sit down at my computer. It's set up just right– there's nothing to do or fix before we start working. Maybe I tidy something, straighten a mouse pad or rearrange some cords.

I'm pairing with someone I like, and who I'm really looking forward to working with today. They like me, they respect my technical skills. They laugh at my jokes, and I laugh at theirs. They have some skills that I don't, that I want to learn more about. They're good at staying on task– I know we'll be sharing the note-taking and task management responsibilities during today's work.

We sit down together. We talk about how our days are going so far, and what we're looking to get out of pairing with each other day. We either have a clear task, or we're able to identify one quickly. We care about what we're working on– we understand who it is that the problem we're solving will help.

We start working.

We get a lot done, like woah. When we encounter a problem that would be a huge obstacle on my own, my pair knows how to solve it quickly, or has an idea for how to work around it. By the end of the day – by lunch, even – we've built something or learned something that we're proud of.

At some point, we high five.

The day goes by fast. It doesn't feel like work. It feels like jamming, taking turns laying down a beat and riffing. When I get confused, my pair slows down and helps get me back in the groove, and I return the favor.

Sometimes we disagree. My pair wants to go one way, and I want to go another. We talk about it. We figure out what's different about what we know, or what we're prioritizing, that's leading to the disagreement. We consider a few more alternatives. We choose a way forward, and it doesn't feel like a compromise.