Should Tests Drive Development?

After spending many hours reading about the benefits of TDD, Test Driven Development, I thought for sure that anyone attempting to program any other way was putting themselves at a huge disadvantage. I mean, who wouldn’t want to get work done faster, cleaner, and with more test coverage? While searching the internet for information about TDD I stumbled upon Robert C. Martin, one of the founders of Agile and writer of Clean Code‘s, blog. On his blog he wrote a post about a study done on TDD that actually proves that TDD brings no benefits into the workplace. As someone who read both Clean Code and Clean Coder I thought that Martin would disprove the study with an iron fist, yet that wasn’t the case.

Martin’s blog post was written in dialogue format which does make it pretty easy to follow along with his main points. Martin doesn’t outright deny the claims made by the writers of the study, rather he claims that their study wasn’t really testing two different ways of programming. The study had two groups work by programming in small chunks while one writes unit tests before, TDD, and the other writes their tests after, TLD, or Test Last Development. While it may seem like both of these ways of programming would yield massively different results there is an inherent problem with the way the study was carried out.

In order to program in small chunks, no matter when the tests are written, one has to think about the tests before writing the code. It is nearly impossible to know what a “small chunk” is for testing unless a test is already in your mind. This is the problem with the study. Both groups were essentially doing TDD except one group was writing the tests prior and one group was committing to the tests that would be written later prior.

The study shows that TDD doesn’t make you any faster or less prone to error than TLD, yet it seems like the two groups that were being studied were both doing a form of TDD, just one was using a less formal version. If there is anything that it seems one could take away from this test its this: writing code in small chunks, even if you aren’t writing the tests before, is the most efficient way to program. This study didn’t disprove TDD, rather it proved that one of the most important principles of TDD, writing code in small chunks, is extremely beneficial to all programmers.

One of my biggest issues when programming, and something that I find happens to me all to frequently, is I’ll have an idea for a way to solve a problem and I’ll chug away writing code until I think I have the whole problem solved. One “full send” later and a couple erroneous outputs and I’m lost as to what I should change in order to make my code passable. I feel like even if I am not using TDD completely when programming for things such as programming challenges, I should try and write in small chunks with the tests I will be writing in mind.

Overall a very fun read by “Uncle Bob” Martin. I am extremely glad I stumbled upon his blog because I enjoyed reading his books a great deal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s