How Does Collaborative Coding Work?

Programming is often seen as an independent process, so how exactly does collaborative coding work? We’ll explain that, plus its different benefits and drawbacks, and how you can make it work in your organization. 

We could always do with an extra pair of eyes or another brain to work on our projects. That’s why collaborative coding can be such a useful tool for programmers looking to speed up their development process. 

By working on your code with either a team or with one other developer, you can finish your project more quickly while also reducing the amount of errors and bugs – after all, they’re a bit more helpful than the traditional rubber duck.

However, programming is often seen as an independent process, so how exactly does collaborative coding work? We’ll explain that, plus its different benefits and drawbacks, and how you can make it work in your organization. 

What is collaborative coding?

Collaborative coding simply refers to any process that involves more than one person working together on a piece of code. In the past, this might have had to take place in an office around a couple of computers but today you can download RealVNC’s MAC remote desktop or other remote working technology to collaborate on code from anywhere in the world. 

There are three specific types of work that come under the umbrella of collaborative coding. You might have heard of pair programming, which is when two programmers pair up to work on a project. When more than two people work together, this is referred to as mob programming. 

The final form of collaborative coding – code sharing – is less about a collaborative process. Instead, it’s when code that has been developed independently is shared in order to let other developers debug or review it. Code sharing is already widely used in open source projects – that’s why we’ll be focusing on pair and mob programming.

The benefits of collaborative programming

Ultimately, regardless of whether you use a pair programming or mob programming model, collaborative coding is about working together. But what’s the point of collaborative coding? Here are the main benefits:

1. Increased efficiency

Improving efficiency and productivity is a key goal of any business, whether that’s a huge restaurant, a small business phone service provider, or a software developer. 

Collaborative coding allows you to work through issues with someone else, meaning that you can draw on another career’s worth of experience and problem-solving. When it comes to producing new ideas, you’ll also find that collaborative working will let you get to appropriate creative ideas more quickly. 

Efficiency will also improve in the more technical aspects of your code. With two or more pairs of eyes looking over your code, you’ll be able to spot mistakes sooner. As well as this, you’ll be able to establish an instant and informal process of code review and feedback, meaning that your code will be successful as early as possible.

2. Better resilience

When a project is the sole responsibility of one developer, all it takes to knock that project off track is a bout of flu. As well as this, you can be forced to abandon long-term projects altogether if a developer leaves the organization. 

Using collaborative coding will mean that these risks are significantly decreased by spreading responsibility for projects across multiple developers. If a programmer becomes ill, for instance, coding can continue without them, meaning that your projects are more resilient and safeguarded against disruptions.

3. Easier training and onboarding

When new developers join your organization, there are few better ways for them to get to grips with how you do things than by working with an experienced programmer. This means that adopting a model of collaborative coding will make it easier to onboard new recruits.

Using pair programming is also a great way to ensure that more experienced programmers are constantly developing their practice. Without this, developers can become stuck in their ways: collaborative coding is an innovative way that you can encourage cross-training in different programming languages, for instance.

Collaborative coding challenges

While there are many benefits, it’s also important to consider some of the issues that come with collaborative coding:

1. Higher costs

When you’re viewing collaborative coding from a financial perspective, you’ll soon come to the realization that you’ve now got two developers being paid for a job that you previously had just one developer working on. 

This means that collaborative coding will often bring higher initial costs – however, these overheads can be overcome in the long term as you see the quality and speed of your programming improve. Additionally, the increased resilience means you’re less likely to end up starting projects from scratch when unexpected situations come up.

2. Communication problems

Programmers are often used to working independently – collaborative coding, on the other hand, requires almost constant communication between team members. This is essentially a separate skill that needs to be developed over time, so developers new to collaborative coding may struggle to communicate effectively as they code. 

Starting people off on smaller projects and pairing up the right people with the right skills can help. And don’t forget to provide training, particularly if you’re using collaborative platforms, as you want to ensure everyone on the team gets the most out of it.

3. Platform requirements

As well as requiring a new form of communication, collaborative coding may demand different platforms and technology. Luckily, there are lots of platforms that are specifically designed for collaborative coding that work both in-office and remotely.

You might also find that you have to invest in other pieces of software to make the collaborative process as smooth as possible, from on demand remote support software to a team messaging app. While these platforms are easily accessible, this nevertheless presents an additional upfront cost.

Making collaborative coding work for you

With these challenges in mind, how can you make collaborative coding work for you? Here are our best practices for collaborative coding:

1. Find the right platform

When looking for a platform to host your collaborative coding efforts, you need to invest in one that is perfect for your needs – think about the size of your team (and whether you’re planning to scale further), your preferred programming languages, and its ease of use. You should also look out for platforms that have advanced security measures to protect you against malicious software or cyberattacks. 

While you’ll be able to continue using testing software, you’ll also want to consider whether your existing development software is able to streamline effectively with your new collaborative platforms. 

In addition, consider project collaboration tools like Jira, which allow developers to plan, track, and work faster when coding software. Encourage teams to collaborate on deploy previews when using these tools, so together they can test and review any code changes before deploying to a live environment.

2. Create balanced teams

Of course, the platform will mean nothing if you don’t have the right people using it. You’ll want to make sure that your collaborative coding teams include a range of different skills and experiences – there’s no point in pairing up two experienced developers who use the same programming languages and who have the same expertise as each other. 

In order to help you create balanced teams, you might want to create the equivalent of an online directory for your organization: list your programmers, their relevant skills, and their personal qualities.

3. Assign clear roles

Once you’ve created a collaborative coding team, you should make sure that every member knows exactly what their responsibilities are. In pair programming, a common distinction is between the ‘driver’ (who actually writes the code) and the ‘navigator’ (who keeps larger goals in mind). These roles can be swapped regularly to keep things fresh.

In larger teams, it’s still important that everyone has a clear role. This will keep everyone focused on their specific task, while also ensuring that you allocate human resources effectively by giving individual programmers roles that best suit their abilities and skills; you’ll also be able to give junior and senior developers jobs that reflect their experience.

4. Communicate consistently and regularly

Having clear roles will also help with another key part of collaborative coding: communication. This is because developers will know who to talk to according to their problem or focus. 

As well as this, you need to be sure to establish a consistent and regular routine of communication. When coding with others, constant communication will help programmers to spot errors and work together to overcome issues and problems. 

This is an essential part of pair programming, but mob programming is also reliant on strong communication. A team of developers producing a remote desktop for Android phone, for instance, will need to have programmers working together to ensure that the final app is coherent and effective.

Collaborative coding – take your programming to the next level

Collaborative coding – whether that’s pair programming or mob programming – is a great way to boost the productivity of your coding projects, as well as to ensure that the overall quality of your code is improved. 

There’s a range of different ways that collaborative coding can work. However, for it to be a success you’ll need to make sure that you use the right platform, assign people to the right teams, create clear roles, and maintain regular communication. With this, you can be sure that collaborative coding will take your code to the next level. 

Finally, if you want to learn more about collaboration, you might also be interested in our post on How to Develop and Improve Collaboration in DevOps Teams– it’s full of great insights and provides a step-by-step guide.


Sam O’ Brien – Vice President of Marketing

Sam O’Brien is the Vice President of Marketing for RealVNC, leading providers of secure, reliable remote access solutions. He is a growth marketing expert with a product management and design background. Sam has a passion for innovation, growth, and marketing technology. Sam has written for other domains such as Debutify and Cloudways. Here is his LinkedIn.

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