Sunday, 4 April 2021

TDD & professionalism: a brief follow-up to Thoughts on Working Code podcast's Testing episode


Yer gonna need to go back and read the comments on Thoughts on Working Code podcast's Testing episode for context here. Especially as I quote a couple of them. I kinda left the comments run themselves there a bit and didn't reply to everyone as I didn't want to dominate the conversation. But one earlier comment that made me itchy, and now one comment that came in in the last week or so, have made me decide to - briefly - follow-up one point that I think warrants drawing attention to and building on.

Briefly, Working Code Pod did an episode on testing, and I got all surly about some of the things that were said, and wrote them up in the article I link to above. BTW Ben's reaction to my feedback in their follow-up episode ("Listener Questions #1) was the source of my current strapline quote: "the tone... it sounds very heated and abrasive". That should frame things nicely.

Right so in the comments to that previous article, we have these discussion fragments:

  • Sean Corfield - Heck, there's still a sizable portion that still doesn't use version control or has some whacked-out manual approach to "source code control".
  • Ben replied to that with - Yikes, I have trouble believing that there are developers _anywhere_ that don't use source-control in this day-and-age. That seems like "table stakes" for development. Period.
  • [off-screen, Adam bites his tongue]
  • Then Sean Hogge replied to the article rather than that particular comment thread. I'm gonna include a chunk of what he said here:

    18 months ago, I was 100% Ben-shaped. Testing simply held little ROI. I have a dev server that's a perfect replica of production, with SSL and everything. I can just log in, open the dashboard, delete the cache and check things with a few clicks.

    But as I started developing features that interact with other features, or that use the same API call in different ways, or present the same data with a partial or module with options, I started seeing an increase in production errors. I could feel myself scrambling more and more. When I stepped back and assessed objectively, tests were the only efficient answer.

    After about 3 weeks of annoying, frustrating, angry work learning to write tests, every word of Adam C's blog post resonates with me. I am not good at it (yet), I am not fast at it (yet), but it is paying off exactly as he and those he references promised it would.

    I recommend reading his entire comment, because it's bloody good.

  • Finally last week I listened to a YouTube video "Jim Coplien and Bob Martin Debate TDD", from which I extracted these two quotes from Martin that drew me back to this discussion:
    • (@ 43sec) My thesis is that it has become infeasible […] for a software developer to consider himself professional if [(s)he] does not practice test-driven development.
    • (@ 14min 42sec) Nowadays it is […] irresponsible for a developer to ship a line of code that [(s)he] has not executed any unit test [upon].. It's important to note that "nowadays" being 2012 in this case: that's when the video was from.
    And, yes, OK the two quotes say much the same thing. I just wanted to emphasise the words "professional" and "irresponsible".

This I think is what Ben is missing. He shows incredulity that someone in 2021 would not use source control. People's reaction is going to be the same to his suggestion he doesn't put much focus on test-automatic, or practise TDD as a matter of course when he's designing his code. And Sean (Hogge) nails it for me.

(And not just Ben. I'm not ragging on him here, he's just the one providing the quote for me to start from).

TDD is not something to be framed in a context alongside other peripheral things one might pick up like this week's kewl JS framework, or Docker or some other piece of utility one might optionally use when solving a client's problem. It's lower level than that, so it's false equivalence to bracket it like that conceptually. Especially as a rationalisation for not addressing your shortcomings in this area.

Testing yer code and using TDD is as fundamental to your professional responsibilities as using source control. That's how one ought to contextualise this. Now I know plenty of people who I'd consider professional and strong pillars of my dev community who aren't as good as they could be with testing/TDD. So I think Martin's first quote is a bit strong. However I think his second quote nails it. If you're not doing TDD you are eroding your professionalism, and you are being professionalbly irresponsible by not addressing this.

In closing: thanks to everyone for putting the effort you did into commenting on that previous article. I really appreciate the conversation even if I didn't say thanks etc to everyone participating.