Katas and TDD

Not long ago, I picked up Uncle Bob Martin's The Clean Coder and felt like I was called out at every angle on places I could improve. Two areas I've severely lacked in are Test Driven Development (TDD) and katas. I found that using Ruby's Hoe and Zentest have helped eliminate excuses for me to not practice.

Starting Pains

One of my biggest deterrents from starting katas is the boilerplate to get rolling. Being a scripting language, Ruby is helpful for trimming the fat and only working on the meat. However, there is still the friction of laying out code properly and setting up testing. It's a minor challenge, but enough to put off the effort and say, "I'll do it later."

Breaking Ground

Enter Hoe. Hoe is a Ruby gem to help get you rolling quickly. I started out by calling sow, which will make a folder in ~/.hoe_template/default, I copied that folder as as sibling to kata. I took the time to configure it to use Minitest instead of Test::Unit. Now, starting a new kata is as simple as sow -s kata mynewkata, and I'm good to start working. I now have a predefined place for source and tests, and also am able to run my tests quickly using rake test. I understand that there is some time spent to initially configure Hoe, but just knowing that won't have to deal with that every time I kata is makes it worth it.

Little Circles

Zentest has also been effective in helping me use TDD. It's easy to slip up and skip running the tests as often as I should. Running autotest increases the frequency of of executing tests, by running on every change of source or test files. It reduces "code, save, run", to simply "code, save". This is great while performing the refactor step of TDD, because you don't have to switch away from your code unless something breaks.

Test Deferred

Test Driven Development is not a new topic to me. From the moment I learned of it, its usefulness has been obvious. Oddly enough, I've always behaved as if I was the exception to the rule. I continued writing my code first, and testing sparsely, even though I knew that TDD was effective.

Assessing myself now, I see that my biggest flaw was only learning theory of TDD and not the application of it. I never spent the time to overcome the learning curve. At work, I'd be starting a new project or feature and wouldn't use TDD because I thought I didn't have the time to use it. I now recognize two flaws in this train of thinking.

First, honing and growing my skills should not be while working on production code. A baseball pitcher doesn't learn how to throw a curveball during a game. Rather, he learns it thoroughly during practice time, so that during a game he can use it effectively. As a parallel, I should be using frequent katas to broaden and polish my skill set.

Second, when I think I don't have time. It's really claiming I dont have time to learn this technique that would make me a more effective developer. I reflect back to learning Vim. The learning curve is enough to make many shy away, but the productivity that comes from it is enormous. It took me at least two months of constant use to be on par with before it. Now, I am frustrated when I can't use Vim keybindings. Had I excused myself from learning that in the same way I've put off TDD, I would be missing one of the most important tools in my belt.

09 Jul 2011