Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Extreme Pair Programming - Guy Steele and Richard Stallman

"We sat down one morning," recalls Steele. "I was at the keyboard, and he was at my elbow," says Steele. "He was perfectly willing to let me type, but he was also telling me what to type.

The programming session lasted 10 hours. Throughout that entire time, Steele says, neither he nor Stallman took a break or made any small talk. By the end of the session, they had managed to hack the pretty print source code to just under 100 lines. "My fingers were on the keyboard the whole time," Steele recalls, "but it felt like both of our ideas were flowing onto the screen. He told me what to type, and I typed it."

The length of the session revealed itself when Steele finally left the AI Lab. Standing outside the building at 545 Tech Square, he was surprised to find himself surrounded by nighttime darkness. As a programmer, Steele was used to marathon coding sessions. Still, something about this session was different. Working with Stallman had forced Steele to block out all external stimuli and focus his entire mental energies on the task at hand. Looking back, Steele says he found the Stallman mind-meld both exhilarating and scary at the same time. "My first thought afterward was: it was a great experience, very intense, and that I never wanted to do it again in my life."
- Guy Steele on a hacking session with RMS in the 1970s.

5 comments:

ohxten said...

Very interesting.

Clint Laskowski said...

What video game were they playing ... I mean what software were they writing?

Indeed, it is very intense to write a white paper using only single syllable words.

Alan said...

The link has the details, but the program was Emacs.

The success of that effort can be measured by the fact that, whatever you personally like or dislike about the editor, its effects are still being felt decades later. (Let alone the people still using Emacs, what about the Emacs keystrokes available by default in Mac OSX text fields?)

Japherwocky said...

Had they discovered pot at that point>

jdtangney said...

This is fascinating! We tend to think of Pair Programming as something new, but these guys were doing it before a lot of today's programmers were born.

Thanks for sharing this!