Sometimes in order to succeed, you have to give up

We went camping at Wallowa Lake, OR this summer.  What a beautiful place!  Of course, it took forever to get there from Bend, but it was well worth the trip.

As is typical when we go camping, Beth and I slept in our sleeping bag atop an air mattress.  This particular air mattress had been replaced several years ago because its predecessor started to leak right around the base of the circular baffles that join the top and the bottom of the air mattress together.

Well, apparently it was time for this air mattress to suffer the same structural defect.  I awoke one morning to find my hip touching the ground and realized I would need to fix this situation if I wanted a good night’s sleep going forward.

In the past, I had been able to super-inflate the mattress and use soapy water to spot the leak.  However, this leak was not cooperating — I would have to get more serious if I wanted to sleep well for the rest of the trip.  So, I took the air mattress to the lake, figuring that if I submerged the mattress, it would yield its leak(s) in the form of air bubbles.  After twenty minutes of pushing, prodding, and otherwise cajoling the mattress into giving up the secret location of the escaping air, I was defeated.  I knew it was there, but I couldn’t find the leak.

I was resigned to several more nights of subpar sleep.  I gave up.

What do you do when you are in a beautiful lake in the afternoon with an air mattress in front of you with the sun heading toward the horizon, much like your summer is sunsetting into autumn?   You jump on your air mattress and soak up some of summer’s final rays — that’s what you do!

It was a split-second after I landed on the air mattress that the telltale WHOOSH from the leak exposed its location.  I mapped the breach immediately by counting the x and y baffle “coordinates,” took the mattress back to camp, let it dry, and finally fixed the leak.

I slept just fine that night.

If it’s broke, fix it!

As I reach the end of the day at the end of the week, I run my tests one more time before checking them in, and … BANG! Failure!

Nuts. I wanted to check stuff in and call it a day. What do I do: check it in anyway, or take the time to fix it before checking it in?

Of course, if you’re even here, you know the answer: take the time to fix it. Here’s two reasons why:

1) If I leave it unfixed, it is more likely than not that something will prevent me from taking the time on Monday to fix it. Then Monday will pass by, and so will Tuesday… and by the end of the week a simple testing error becomes a burden to fix. Consequently, I no longer get the warm fuzzies and confidence of a clean test run at will. So, maybe I’ll just let the whole test suite decay since it’s obviously now broken. Not good — I’ve just given up the value of my entire test suite because I wouldn’t take the time to track down and fix an error in a test case that used to pass. And trust me — the longer you wait to fix something like this, the harder it becomes to get yourself psyched up to deal with it.

2) It took me so long to write #1 that I’ve forgotten #2. No matter — I did go ahead and fix the test case and I ended up with a better test anyway.

Test First, Code Later

I just wrote the following missive to some of my colleagues. Then I realized it would make a good blog entry, so here ya go…


The seasons are turning here [in Central Oregon] and it’s a little gray outside. I actually had to turn on the heater in my office! So, I’m dragging a little bit as a result and am looking to “shake things up” a little bit in my little office world in order to keep making progress. So I am listing what I need to do on my current project in priority order:


1) Write test client for normal life cycle



Wow, two years ago, that would’ve been at the bottom of my list (and thus fallen off) of a project. Then my mind speeds off to how different that thinking is than the way I was taught (albeit that was 20+ years ago but probably unchanged until relatively recently). And I thought, if I were teaching an introduction to programming class (or intro to Ruby or Java or whatever), the very first topic of discussion and the first assignment would be:


Writing tests.


I can’t think of any other fundamental change during the life of my career other than the advent of object-oriented programming that has had such a positive impact on my code quality and productivity. Being able to write tests FIRST and then write code that satisfies those tests is a lot like having a simple coloring book that has the picture drawn — you just need to color inside the lines. Sometimes it’s “too much” to think about everything that comprises a programming problem, and I’ve found that I can get traction simply by writing a test and then making it work. I also discover TONS about how I want the code to look, and I find that by writing tests I don’t like the way I thought I was going to write it and now I can fix it. Finally, you end up with a PILE of test code as a happy side-effect which you can run any time and feel confident you haven’t fucked anything up along the way.


The net effect of Test Driven Development is:

– better quality code, by far

– faster resolution of problems

– ultimately faster time to completion


Let me underline that last point: faster time to completion. Typically when we’re “under the gun,” we think it’ll be faster to dive in and be “quick and efficient” to write something, obviating test code. Although this is true some of the time, I’d argue that it is not true the majority of the time.


I hope that my relentless preaching about testing eventually tires you all out enough that you start doing it if you haven’t already. There are very few things in my life that I am zealous about — TDD is one of them.