In What Kind Of Project Is It Best To Use Test Driven Development?

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In what kind of project is it best to use test driven development? And how much time can it save you?

Another programming fad, obviously fundamentally flawed but as with pair programming widely accepted by people intelligent and experienced enough to know better. How things usually work. we have a new project, described in vague terms e.g. user experience or business model. We set to work writing a functional design specification that outlines the interfaces, data flow, primitives, and once we get agreement from all principles we set out coding it. Within weeks if not within days or even hours of putting the design into implementation we run into exigencies that nobody had thought of. Ideas that turn out to not work; changing requirements; feature that we remove, UAT feedback. Maybe we update the design to reflect these but that often falls by the wayside. By the time the project is released for distribution we have made substantial changes to the original design, and we have developed tests from unit tests of components up to user interface testing by actually operating the software itself on its target platform. By this time it bears scant resemblance to the original as we found we hadn’t thought of things, or that some features were useless, or that users didn’t like it. “Test driven development” is a concept from a certain sort of fanatic I’ve had the misfortune of working with, and supposes that the changes we make between spec and release don’t happen. The idea is that the software is ready to release once it passes all the tests that were written based on the specification. This is garbage. Every time the reality wanders from the design, and it ALWAYS does, the tests have to be revisited and revised, extra work, with the Atlas-load of software development process (read. meetings) that goes with it. That’s one problem. The greater problem is that developers are expected to write the tests, and that is a tremendous folly. Because as any serious developer (as opposed to those who just leap from one management fad to another to another to another), we will have the same blind spots in writing our tests (be t before or after the coding of the piece being tested) that we had writing code. This is another of those fads like pair programming and illegible formatting gimmicks that anyone could dismiss with a few seconds of unrestrained thought, but which we are saddled with by buzzword-addled managers and compulsively obedient coworkers. What a dumb idea. Yeah sure write tests for pieces that are design-frozen but to write tests for as rapidly moving a target as the design of complex software is just stupid, stupid, stupid.

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So don’t say that, instead of asking, “What other tool should I use?”. It may seem like a small tool, but you'll never know if it's working until you're looking at the results from the application you’ve been writing for years, and you start noticing some new problems with the current code. And once in a while, you'll find that you’ve written the right solution, and you see that it is already working, and then you discover when the new feature was added that it didn’t work as you had hoped, and it's really an implementation issue. There's no magic. TDD is not magic. It's a technique for solving problems. Don’t get stuck on the philosophy. How to use TDD — by example Let's go back to the example about writing a function (function is used a bit too loosely for what I have in mind.

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