Leading a Pair Programming Meetup

Picture of Pair Programming Meetup

In July of 2015, I started hosting a Pair Programming meetup as a part of the Atlanta Ruby Users Group. Most of the coding-oriented meetups I attended were fun as social events, but they always revolved around a presentation that I could just as easily watch on YouTube. No one seemed to write any code at meetups for coders!

The Pair Programming meetup was meant to be an alternative based on a simple idea. We meet up, pair up, and work on short coding exercises. Junior developers would get to work with more senior developers. People would socialize. They’d help each other. Kumbaya! That is, if I could find the right format. I think I did, but here’s some things I learned along the way…

First Iteration: Web Apps

I chose the exercises. I aimed initially at making them real web applications. We didn’t necessarily exchange code at the end and I provided no tests to measure their success. Quickly I learned that a few hours simply isn’t enough for most people get over the hurdles of deploying a real web app. New developers would often get stuck in the mechanics of deployment or version control. Secondly, people felt disheartened at the lack of tests provided. They didn’t feel like they had a measurable goal to tackle. Finally, people didn’t necessarily love the exercises I baked up myself.

Second Iteration: Gamification

In the second iteration, I asked participants to sign up at CodeWars and choose their own exercises. CodeWars assigns a point number to the exercise based upon its difficulty. I would track the increase in the team’s total through the course of the evening. The team that gained the greatest number of points won. Additionally, CodeWars provided automated tests for each of its exercises. However, this approach resulted in an odd disconnect between teams. Every team worked on different problems at different times, so they didn’t talk to each other. Furthermore, CodeWars didn’t expose all the tests it ran to the user. So sometimes CodeWars would fail code but not explain why the code had failed.

Third and Final Iteration

In the third iteration, we switched tools again to Exercism.io. However, I would choose one or two exercises for the evening rather than letting the teams choose. This way everyone was working on the same problems. Additionally, Exercism exposed its tests to the user, so there was no confusion as to why a test failed. Finally, Exercism provided a review mechanism for code that was submitted to their system. At our meetup, we would do this review in person by reserving the last 15 minutes purely for peer code review. People seemed to really like the format. Score!

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