The 60 inch Pair Station

16 Nov 2017

My company was thinking of moving out of the Willis Tower until they made us an offer we didn’t refuse: A large amount of money to remodel and a bigger space. One of the outcomes of this ‘free money’ was a bunch of 60 inch flat screens occupying the walls with no real plan for usage. Pretty soon postcards and calendars started appearing on their surface.

Which seemed a bit of a waste.

One day Toby and I were pairing and happened to be about 10 feet from one of the unused TVs so we pulled our desk up close to the wall and used the 60 inch for a display. It was wonderful. We could spread out all our windows so much so that we didn’t even need workspaces. When it came time for help and/or a code review the whole team could easily read the code. Soon we got a rollable stand for the monitor and were able to use it at a more appropriate height and anywhere we wanted.

We loved the collaboration inspired by the first 60’’ monitor so much that we rescued another 60 to be a part of a second pairing station. We could have 4 developers sitting side by side helping each other while communicating effortlessly. Collective code ownership felt way more real when all the code was huge and readable from a distance. When we had a sustained effort to build a micro service it was delightful to have the pair working on the API sitting right next to the pair consuming the API. At any point 1 of 4 developers could glance over at the other screen to see either what they expected or question something they did not understand. Through this interaction many bugs were caught long before they were committed to the codebase.

Also, it’s fun to watch the latest internet videos on a huge screen for team bonding. You do need to be mindful of disrupting the other islands/teams.

TVs today have gotten so inexpensive that this really doesn’t cost much. 150 bucks can buy a rollable stand for a large monitor and the monitor itself can be less than a grand. A company could make a statement about how much it values pair programing by spending more on the shared monitors than on individual ones. 4k HDR would make for a pretty sweet pairing station…

Some developers don’t like working on a 60 inch monitor because they feel exposed as anyone can walk up and criticize your code. That can be pretty intimidating to a seasoned developer, and junior developers may feel downright scared. Most times this is just a perception and everyone behaves like adults and collaboration is aided. If this is an actual problem then using big monitors will expose toxic developers and they should be corrected of their unintentionally harmful comments or fired. Protecting your people is just as much about finding the bad as it is about promoting the good.

I’ve been working every day with this huge monitor and I love it. I love that it encourages the communal nature of code. We all own it. We are all in this together. The message is unequivocal: The team will solve the problem as a group.