Cultural Challenges Of Pair Programming

Another issue. I've been trying to get into PairProgramming in my current contract. It's the only bit of XP which I've never tried before. However I seem to have encountered a problem which I have not seen mentioned here.

Our project has a somewhat mixed workforce, about 45% permanent local employees, about 5% local contractors and the remaining 50% are staff from an associated company in India. The problem I find is one of language. Although we all speak English, the accents, idioms and terminology vary widely between the local and Indian staff. In a meeting context there are usually enough people present to interpret or provide alternatives to difficult phrases, but in a pair it can be very hard indeed.

It seems that most of the benefits come from a closely coupled, wide bandwidth communication between the people in the pair, and this is very vulnerable to language and cultural issues. I don't think it's just me. I have managed to gain benefits pairing with one or two of the local staff on odd bits of the project.

Has anyone else experienced this and/or got a solution for it? -- FrankCarver

It will take a while to learn how to pair with someone from a different culture. MassimoArnoldi and I almost killed each other (figuratively speaking, I hope) for about two months. Part of the problem was language, part was culture, part was programming style, part was work context, part was body space (if you pair with Italians, be prepared for physical contact [<- I have a PoliticalCorrectness dispensation since I live in Europe]). Once we got over all that, we work very smoothly together.

Take it a little at a time. Don't try to pair all day with someone with whom you are uncomfortable. Do a half hour or an hour. Or just start with a CrcCard session. But don't form PairCliques- the more different pairs that can work together productively, the lower the project risk. -- KentBeck
My first experience with PairProgramming was with a Finn, and it was great.(maybe you should ask him :-) -- ShaeErisson
An observation: if cultural and language differences within the programming team cause difficulties in PairProgramming, they will also cause problems without PairProgramming. This may just be another case where XP catches risk factors early. -- RobMandeville
I found that people from certain cultures (especially Asians and Indians) have really ingrained in them a sense of self-sufficiency. They tend not to ask for help from other people, or rather, their culture dictates that once you have a task you just do it yourself without making a lot of noise. It's not pride, it's just part of the culture. This goes counter to PairProgramming. Western culture is much more open about needing help. (I'm Chinese American, so I see the differences). -- KenLiu

See PairProgrammingTestimonials and DanesSitAtLeastTwoFeetAway? for related issues.

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