Agile 2011 Event: Tango, the Stance of Reaction, and Pair Programming

In the Agile2011 fringe, I’ll be doing a session with that title. Here’s my blurb:

One of the characteristics of Agile is that it favors the reactive over the proactive. For example, you grow the program in response to new feature requests rather than needing to know all the features in advance. Programmers regularly talk of reacting to “code smells” or paying attention to “what the code’s telling us”.

Being appropriately reactive is a skill. You’re not born knowing how to attend to subtle details, or how to react in a graceful, helpful way.

Skills can be taught. All over the world, people are learning the complementary skills of leading and following in tango, an incredibly improvisational and reactive dance. I believe the learning techniques tango instructors use can be adapted to learning other kinds of reaction—like the reactions of pair programmers to each other and to the code.

In the first part of this session, I’ll teach you some simple tango moves. We’ll concentrate both on learning the moves and also on how we’re learning the moves.

In the second part of the session, we’ll break out computers and write programs or tests (or collaborate on some other task of your choice). Will you be able to react more appropriately to your pair? Will you give off better signals? Will consciously practicing the skill of pairing help you be better at it? We’ll see!

Important note: In my experience, most people are more comfortable learning to dance with someone of the opposite sex. I’ve also noticed that there are a lot more male programmers than female programmers. I worry the title will attract only programmers, leading to a big imbalance. So I encourage everyone to encourage women at the conference to attend at least the first half of the session. They’ll get something out of it (beyond an introduction to tango).

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