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Looking at TDD through a lean-agile lens

It’s a commonplace to say there is no “silver bullet,” and everything we do in the software field has to take context into consideration. In fact, this is quite true. TDD is a useful technique to know. To know TDD well, you must understand why and when it is useful, and how to do it correctly. If you apply TDD for the wrong reasons, in the wrong places, or in the wrong way, then it will not yield any value.

Many of the complaints people raise about TDD and about unit testing in general boil down to a misunderstanding or a misapplication of practices. Some complaints, however, are completely valid. You have to make your own professional judgments about such matters. To be equipped to make such judgments, you need to understand how TDD can add value in your work; and when it will not.
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Bringing TDD and automated testing to the mainframe platform

Can contemporary lightweight software development and delivery methods “scale” in large enterprises without appropriate support for the venerable IBM mainframe platform? Thought leaders in the “agile” community seem to think so. For example, this proposed session on code isolation and automated testing for mainframe applications received almost no notice from the review team for the Agile 2015 conference. The two reviewers who noticed the submission seemed not to understand what it was about, or to see any relevance or usefulness in it.

It’s true that some large enterprises don’t have mainframe technology. Apple, Google, Amazon, and a handful of others built their businesses in an era when alternatives to the mainframe were plentiful. Those companies tend to be relatively uninterested in “agile” and “lean” methods, as they have come up with their own ways of doing things, and their financial position doesn’t lead them to believe they need to change. They’re probably right. If they were “dysfunctional” they probably wouldn’t be doing quite so well financially…a minor detail often overlooked by enthusiastic change agents.

However, the majority of larger enterprises have been around for decades. They have used computer technology all those years. The general pattern has been to layer new technologies on top of old rather than to migrate applications. Name a large bank or insurance firm that doesn’t have a significant investment in mainframe systems. Now explain how you would bring agility to those organizations just by setting up a few Scrum teams, applying good technical practices only to the outermost layer of their technology stack, and ignoring technical practices and tooling on the mainframe platform.

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TDD and software archaeology

Can you tell by looking at the unit test cases whether the code’s author wrote the tests first? During a TDD class I taught last week, one of the participants suggested that you can’t tell. Completed code and unit tests would look the same regardless of which had been written first. At the time I didn’t give the comment much thought.

I returned to the team I was working with at another client on Thursday, the last day of their iteration cycle. I picked up a small story so I could contribute something before the end of the day. It was a bug fix for JavaScript input validation logic in a webapp. Like many applications, this one uses date ranges to activate and deactivate certain data values that drive functionality. In this case, the input validation function neglected to ensure the expiration date was later than the effective date. Continue reading TDD and software archaeology

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The right kind of lazy

I consider test-driven development (TDD) to be a basic software development technique. I’ve used it in a wide range of circumstances for different types of applications in different domains based on different languages and tools. I coach people in using the technique, I run workshops at conferences on it, and I offer a two-day training class on it.

My only regret is that I didn’t learn about TDD earlier in my career. All those years doing things the hard way…time lost forever. Oh, well.

I use TDD and I like it, but I never try to “convince” anyone that they should use it, or even that it works well. I never suggest that TDD is a “goal” for an individual or for a team. TDD might help you achieve some other goal, but it isn’t a goal in itself. It’s just a technique.

And, let’s face it, nearly all the code in production today, worldwide, was developed without TDD. Nearly all the code under development right now is being developed without TDD. Clearly, programmers can get along without it.
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