We realized recently that we’d been working together in various projects for a few years, though we maybe never really consciously thought about this as “pairing”. When we decided to publish our shared thoughts on this new blog, though, the topic of pairing began to feel like a good one for us to cover.
Pairing – what and why?
Before we dig in further, let’s see if we can elaborate on why we might pair to complete a task. Perhaps the first thing to highlight is that pairing is a choice – it’s a choice to involve another person in helping to solve a problem. Pairing is not a law, you can problem solve on your own if you so choose. So why might we elect to pair?
Coming together is a great way to explore shared experiences and leverage the diversity of thought that comes from different backgrounds & knowledge. Each member of the pair brings a different mental model to the problem at hand, again resulting in more diverse avenues to explore together. Pairing also helps with negotiation skills and can enable a safer environment in which to resolve disagreements. And, of course, sometimes it’s just nice to have someone to work with rather than tackling a problem alone.
We’ve worked together to co-write for magazines and so on, but our most significant pairing exercise – both in terms of effort and outcomes – to date has been putting together and running the EPIC TestAbility Academy (ETA).
The EPIC TestAbility Academy
Paul says: “The TL;DR of the EPIC TestAbility Academy is that I decided to pursue an idea I had been pondering for some time. Why did I decide to pair rather than run with it on my own? Well here’s a small list. The work required to get such an undertaking in place is significant. I knew I didn’t have the required capacity. I had ideas but I wanted someone who could challenge them, propose things I would not have thought of so that the course became better than it could otherwise have been. I wanted somebody who had skills that I didn’t have. For all of the above I also just wanted to share the experience with somebody who believed that contributing to the test community is important.”
Lee says: “Paul came to me with the idea of working together in a community/volunteer capacity and the idea instantly appealed to me. It’s unlikely I would have come up with the idea myself so having Paul’s passion as the driving force helped to get a project off the ground with EPIC Assist.”
One of the things that stands out is that we have different, but complimentary styles. For example, we both love good slide sets when presenting or teaching to others. We generally reach agreement fairly quickly on what we think are the key points. However Paul prefers sparse slides (just the really key details, and whenever possible, no words just a related diagram or picture), while Lee is somewhat more detail driven and prefers more words on the slide. This is where things get interesting as we then need to negotiate and iterate over the content.
We discovered we have different teaching styles. Lee leans more towards being driven by the topic or slide, while remaining open to exploring interesting thoughts and ideas. Perhaps due to his teaching background but put Paul in front of a group of people and he undergoes a slight personality change. So he was more willing to pick up a thread and diverge from the immediate topic. More than once (OK, regularly, yeah, alright, every week) we had to modify the upcoming session content for our ETA classes. That was part of our shared learning. These differences worked really well as we had two different styles in action as we swapped in and out of “teacher” and “assistant” modes.
This is probably one of the keys to what is a very solid friendship. We can differ and negotiate without getting into a “win/lose” or a “my way or the highway” mindset. We observe, we consider, we raise differences of opinions respectfully. Some of our work is done over a shared bottle of red wine sitting in Lee’s house – this probably helps the process.
In the interests of raising awareness of the work we’d been doing with ETA, we submitted a proposal to speak at the inaugural TestBash Australia conference in Sydney in 2018. We were pleased to be accepted and had several months to prepare for this joint presentation. Our preparation mirrored our approach to building the ETA content in many ways – drafting slides individually and then reviewing them together (so that Paul could cut Lee’s wordy slides down to something more presentable!). Lee’s previous conference experience led to us adopting a fairly rigorous practice regime, especially important given the hard thirty-minute timeslot we’d been given. We rehearsed the talk over Skype meetings, timing each slide and reviewing where we needed to refine our messaging to fit the timeslot. After several iterations, we got to the point where had a good set of slides that we could deliver in a consistent manner (within a couple of minutes either way). We felt very well prepared as we headed to Sydney for the conference. The delivery of the talk as a pair also worked really well and knowing we had each others back was a confidence booster.
A more recent pairing effort has resulted in what you’re reading today, our joint blog. While we both blog in our own right (Paul at BeagleSays.blog and Lee at TheRockerTester), we often discuss things – often over a coffee after work – that feel more appropriate to cover together, where we can share our potentially different thoughts on the same topic in one place.
Joint blogging has proved to be a very different experience to blogging individually. Both of us tend to write individual blog posts fairly quickly once we have an idea we think is worth writing about. When we decide to cover a topic via our joint blog, however, the posts take considerably longer to form and publish. The asynchronous nature of putting these joint posts together is a blessing and a curse – we take the opportunity to edit, refine and discuss content (sometimes over a number of weeks) which probably leads to more coherent posts, but the lag between initial idea and publishing can also be frustrating for both of us.
Our final thoughts
We pair because it works for us, it’s enjoyable, and it also gives us the chance to learn from our differences as well as our similarities.