White Male Privilege in Agile


Developer Sarah Mei posted this on Twitter yesterday, saying those that practice TDD, refactoring and pair programming assume “A LOT of built in privilege”.

I could be missing something glaring, but I’m failing to see the connection.


There were numerous replies to this tweet in an attempt to get her to elucidate her position, and instead she resorted to name calling, insults, and correcting people’s grammar. That’s troll behavior.


She’s since elaborated here:

I guess the main points I took away:

  • They HAD to be at the office from 9-6 every day. This made it difficult to hold a work life balance, especially parents.
  • They HAD to pair all day, every day, for 8 hours a day. This was exhausting.

My team has core hours between 11-3 where everyone will be in the office or accessible online. I choose to come in early and leave around 4. Other choose to come in later and stay until 6-ish. This has worked well for everyone, including parents.

We also do not pair program anywhere near a full 8 hours a day. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t pair at all during the day. It all depends if someone is stuck, if it is something new to the entire team. We do it when it feels right, and we break off and work on our own when that makes sense too.

She’s still adding to the thread, but I feel like a lot of what she’s describing relates to very hardcore agile practices.


I read the whole thing, and it sounds like her environment sucked. Those core working hours are completely unrealistic, as well as pairing 8 hours a day. So the problem isn’t Agile/XP/Scrum, the problem is that organization’s application of the methodology.


Yeah, I guess from a purist perspective, that’s true “XP”?

But I don’t think a majority of people pushing XP would advocate for the type of environment she described. I agree that what she described is not ideal for anyone, and I would not last very long working like that.




As a person who normally pushes against “white male privilege” (as an ashamed white male)… I also recognize gaslighting and emotionally abusive approaches from a mile away. It’s a shame that she went through a traumatizing environment, and it seems that she is unable to separate the environment’s impact on her XP experience from actual XP practices.

The best thing we can do is show empathy for her past trauma and share stories that prove her experience to not be the only outcome of an XP attempt (without being combative)… and then walk away. This approach will likely not change her mind, but it may keep others that are reading the thread from assuming her attack is 100% truth in all settings allowing a more open mind in future attempts.

We all know there are more bad agile implementations than good…


@kschlabach - “We all know there are more bad agile implementations than good”, well put and it’s hard not to put that tweet to one of those bad implementations.

In my experience, I’ve used pairing not only with people from different cultures, but distributed teams (split across India and the UK) and teams with vast differences in age and experience as well and used it as a method of mentoring. It has always worked exceedingly well, resulting in amazing team dynamics.


I’ll share my perspective as a working mom and say that I think this was absolutely the product of an unhealthy work environment and had almost nothing to do with agile or agile practices. You could say the same thing about the time of day a team chooses to do stand up but your drawing a very dotted line to a team who just isn’t respecting the work/life balance of everyone on the team. I’ve had to get up and leave a retro to pump, step out of story mapping to pick up a sick kid and been late to stand up because a kid puked on me- but all of that was more of an imbalance in my own household (and society) than because those ceremonies excited.


My impression is that there’s a lot that Sarah Mei likes about XP and that she’s had both good and bad experiences with its practices. I think that she wants to fix it, not throw it out. And it seems that there are enough other women who have had similar experiences to motivate a conference dedicated to the subject, Pear Conf in July, where she will be giving one of the keynotes. I attended the previous incarnation, AndXP in 2016, and I’ll be at Pear Conf as well.

I might jump on Twitter to ask some questions at some point. She mentioned a lot more than just hours, but since that’s the main thing picked up on in this thread I’ll just chime in with total agreement that 8 hours of pairing is crazy. But then 8 hours of programming is pretty crazy. The most productive teams I’ve worked on did maybe 6 hours of programming a day, all of it paired.

I would hope that something like mob programming could allow for more flexible schedules, since the group can keep going even if people come and go. But I’ve heard the folks at Hunter Industries talk about a strict 8-5 schedule as well. When did we give up on 9-5 and let 9-hour days become normal? Remember “Sustainable Pace” a.k.a. “40-Hour Week” is one of the core XP practices! (Not saying I live up to it myself right now, but then I don’t work at an XP shop at the moment.)


NOTE: Aware I am a middle age white male… I saw this and thought it relevant to the conversation.