is debugger a modern translator?

May 19, 2009

Couple of days ago we interviewed a young adept of the craft. We let him code but he got stressed out a bit and wrote very complicated code. At some point he stopped understanding the code he wrote. So he started using debugger to figure out the meaning of the code. This is when debugger became sort of a modern electronic translator.

The thing is we probably don’t want to use debugger as a translator. We prefer to understand the code we write. Instead of debugging I usually recommend writing a small test that covers the logic in question. You can try this exercise next time you are about to launch the debugger.

Don’t get me wrong – debugger is a handy tool in every developer’s kit. It’s just the less you use it the better you are in producing high quality code. Actually, it’s probably other way around – when you get fluency with TDD/simple design you will soon discover how rarely you use debugger.

excuses for not doing dev testing

May 12, 2009

Yesterday I heart loads of excuses why the tests have not been written. I immedietaly remembered Misko Hevery‘s session at amazing geecon conference (be sure to attend next year!). Misko told a story about influencing developers to write more tests, testable code and TDD. I liked his slide where he collected all the excuses he heart from devs explaining why they haven’t written tests. Basically, Misko’s conclusion was that the only valid reason of not writing tests/TDD was lack of skill. TDD or ability to write tests is a skill like any other and it is no shame if you haven’t acquired it yet!

However, some of the excuses I heart yesterday were beyond any common sense:

  • this is not really worth testing
  • this is a small application
  • we don’t have time
  • (my favorite one) tests would make it harder to refactor

That was all bullshit and the only reason the tests were not written was that it was hard to write them. Devs didn’t know how to write tests for the DAO layer (how to ensure db is in correct state, how to maintain test database, etc.). Devs didn’t know how to write integration tests because of lack of experience with tools like Selenium. So they didn’t write any tests, not even plain jUnits.

Half a year ago, the same development team wrote loads of tests achieving high quality code base & high test coverage. Those days they wrote a django application. Django is a modern framework with built-in means of testing. It significantly contributed to the fact that developers wrote tests without cheating themselves with it’s-not-worth-testing kind of excuses (complete list above).

The interesting thing about the situation I encounter yesterday was this: junior developer wanted to write tests for some DAO code that did not have any tests (actually, there were zero tests at all…). So I asked senior developer responsible for architecture to help out setting up a TestCase that can prepare connection to test database, etc. Instead of helping, the senior guy started his mantra of excuses trying to convince junior developer not to write tests. Fortunately, I was there…