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When I am unable to TDD…

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It has been a while since we started using unit tests (and other types of tests) in our projects. But test driven design has always been something that once in a while I feel unskilled enough to do from start!?

Many people (including myself), for many reasons, that TDD is the way to go… but what happens when I have no clue on what I am building?

In the last 3 open source projects that I have worked at, only one started with TDD since its conception. 2 of those projects are actually tools (TestSlicer and VRaptor) while the other one is an continuous integration server.

The first project is about running integration builds faster by running only the required tests. In other words, it should only run the tests affected by the change log.

The problem with creating this tool is that, while coding it for the first time, it is so unclear how it will work or what it will exactly do that it was impossible to test it prior to creation. The first attempt was to use TDD and some code was created. After a few days, it was clear that the way the tool was going to achieve its purpose was way unclear in order to create integration tests for it. Some days afterwards everything was even more clear:

  • unable to keep up coding it due to the lack of more advanced tests
  • it was possible to create such a tool

After the first version was used in production, the conclusion was that it was a great approach to use and drop and re-use TDD in this project, because the idea was way so unclear that it would require anyway a complete coding of the project from scratch – again. Due to the very early stage of the project and Its purposes and ideas evolving too fast in a short period, it felt/was counter-productive to keep tdd-ing.

VRaptor started from scratch with TDD and went just fine. We all knew its purpose and had a somehow clear vision of what we desired (a refactor friendly framework), not knowing exactly how to implement it – but in the end, achieving it. TDD win.

The third project suffered from the same problem that the first one had. We just had a short (unclear) glimpse of what we wanted: “run all our tests in parallel” instead of “running our builds in parallel“. But how?

Should it be the job of our agent machines to consume what our servers make available? Or should the servers manage the agents (as cruise) to do their job? Should it be implemented through low-level sockets or http based resources? Everything was so unclear and changed so fast in the first couple of days that it was impossible to test first, code afterwards at that time.

After the first trial on a private project, it was clear how to and even more clear what we wanted to achieve, so it was time to refactor and start TDD’ing.

This is the common feeling that I have found about TDD bugging people</a… whenever your project is a prototype to check that something is possible of doing, or you are just creating something completely new that you have no idea what it is, it sounds you should first create the prototype, throw it away and restart it with TDD.

Maybe typical web-based app’s won’t suffer of this problem because sprint plannings will help getting things clear in the developer’s mind. But developing a library or a tool for other developers it not the same type of task. At least during the first few moments…

Written by guilhermesilveira

August 24, 2009 at 10:00 am

Posted in agile, Uncategorized

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