… Some deaf people successfully become programmers. It’s mostly thought-based, often solitary work, where all your output is written down. Specifications and bugs come to you (in an ideal world, at least) on paper and in ticketing systems instead of through other people’s noiseholes. Some areas aren’t quite so fabulous (I’m looking at you, interminable conference call meetings involving 15 people sitting in a circle around a gigantic table), but adjustments are always possible.
The stereotype of a programmer as a solitary eccentric who’s allergic to human company is unfair and inaccurate. As a group, we’re a very social bunch. We write blogs, we speak at conferences, we produce tutorials, we mentor. This isn’t new, either – it’s an atmosphere that dates from before the earliest days of the internet at Bell Labs, or MIT, and scores of other R&D orgs. I love this social world of code, as being able to surround yourself with competent, enthusiastic individuals is a big part of becoming a better developer yourself. But one thing that I’ve always felt shut out of is pair programming.
Pair programming, in principle, is great – it’s like Rubber Duck debugging on steroids.
So it was great to get the opportunity to pair with Rowan Manning on the Pa11y project, the automated accessibility testing tool built for Nature. Using Screenhero to set up a remote pairing session meant that we could both look at the screen and use text to communicate, losing no information and generating no confusion.
This was the first time I’ve done a pairing session that worked as it should. It’s difficult to express what a difference this makes as I think most hearing people find it hard to appreciate how much information loss occurs in general conversation with a deaf person. Imagine that in your city that all the books you’ve ever read have had ~60% of the words in them randomly blanked out with a Sharpie. Then imagine going on holiday to a neighbouring city where (mercifully) nobody does that and you can suddenly read an entire book without needing to guess at anything. It’s a bit like that.