We can work it out – How the ‘Lennon-McCartney’ method of songwriting can be applied to writing code


Earlier this month, the 50th anniversary re-release of Abbey Road, The Beatles’ eleventh studio album, rose to the top of the charts again, a testament to the longevity of the band’s popularity and the universally magnetic quality of their music. 

In accordance with the rest of the band’s oeuvre, the composition for the majority of tracks is attributed to ‘Lennon-McCartney’ (or vice versa), with credit never solely given to either one of the duo. As many close to the pair observed, Lennon and McCartney’s relationship was characterised by collaboration and competition, the Ying to the other’s Yang: According to Cynthia Lennon, “John needed Paul’s persistence and attention to detail. Paul needed John’s anarchic, lateral thinking.”

‘Lennon-McCartey’ has now become a by-word for pairs coming together to create something greater than the sum of their parts. In the world of software development, this phenomenon takes the form of ‘pair programming’: two developers, two keyboards, two mice, two monitors but only one computer and one piece of software, forcing the pair to work together and strike a balance between challenging and conceding to each other’s assumptions. 

Just like John learned from Paul and Paul learned from John, having two individuals with a plethora of unique experiences, influences and ideas work together creatively can be a highly educational experience for both:

  • Getting by with a little help from a friend: Like writing music, writing pieces of code requires both creativity and control. Playing the role of the creative and the controller (and switching these around frequently) is therefore imperative.
  • Nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land: one need only read Frankenstein to realise the hubris of a design process spearheaded by a single individual laser focusing on the end product, rather than the end user.
  • There's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend: pair a front-end engineer with a back-end engineer for a few months and you’ll see the former cranking out prepared statements and the latter working on HTML5 optimizations in no time.

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