Friday, 23 August 2013

Test Deafness

A few months ago I was talking to a musician friend of mine. He is also Brazilian, same age as me, and moved to the UK on the same year I did. As we were talking about music, I mentioned I like punk rock. He said he likes punk rock as well, but as a musician, he listens to a bit of everything. The conversation was going well until he asked me what my favourite bands were. "Legiao Urbana" is my favourite Brazilian band I said. "Seriously?" he said with a puzzled face. "They are rubbish, man."

As he was a friend (he became an enemy after that stupid comment), I thought to myself: How can I make him suffer for the rest of his life? Luck for him, I remembered that I was not a Brazilian savage anymore. I was British now and I had to act like one: "Oh, are they? Thanks for sharing that with me. Would you mind telling me what your favourite bands are? More tea?" He then named a few bands, including some Forró bands. Shock! Horror!! Blasphemy!!! I really wanted to kill him right there. Fuck the British citizenship. How could a guy, that also liked punk rock music, say that the band I liked was rubbish and then name some stupid Forro bands as his favourite bands?

After quite a long list of swear words pronounced in a very loud tone, I asked him to elaborate. All songs of Legiao Urbana, he said, are played with three or four chords maximum. Their lyrics are great, but they are very poor musicians. The Forro bands are totally the opposite. The lyrics suck but no one cares. Their are great musicians that focus on creating music for people to dance.

That conversation made me realise something really important. If you are a person like me, good music is related to good and strong lyrics. For a musician like my friend, good music is about the techniques used by other musicians when playing their instruments, regardless of the lyrics. For a person that likes to sing, she may appreciate opera, even if she doesn't have a clue about what the words mean.

But what does it have to do with tests?

You cannot expect to produce quality code just by listening to your test. If you don't know what good code looks like, you are pretty much test deaf. Musicians have a trained ear to listen to each instrument individually while the music is playing. They can also imagine, quite precisely, how different instruments could be combined to create new music.

Walking around asking other developers to listen to their tests, as if this advice alone would make them produce quality code immediately, doesn't work. It may make us look smart (or at least feel smart) but it does not really help the other developers receiving the advice. It's too vague.

If we want to produce quality code, we should study the concepts and techniques that lead to it: Domain Driven Design, Clean Code, SOLID principles, design patterns, coupling, cohesion, different programming languages and paradigms, architecture, just to name a few. Once we get a good understanding of all these things, we will have an implied knowledge about what constitutes good code. This implied knowledge is what may cure our test deafness, allowing us to listen to our tests in order to produce quality code. 


Dmitry Kandalov said...

I agree that you need knowledge and lots of practice to "hear". Using the same metaphor just like there is no ultimately "good" music there is no universally "good" code. At some point I gave up arguing what is the right style and settled down on "let's do this and see how it looks afterwards". The same with tests, what is the right level of abstraction to test? Will it be useful in a month, year, three years? Would be nice to have some kind of "meta-annotations" to come back and review decisions.

Peter Kofler said...

Thank you Sandro, I love the introduction with you holding back because of being British now ;-)

I totally agree and even things like SOLID and the basics of being able to listen to tests are not known to many developers. We have created our own vocabulary that many of us do not know. E.g. Listen to your tests > what do you mean? > design is bad > why do you think so? > SOLID principle is violated > what is it/what does it mean? > and so on and so on. This is almost fractal as every level depends on lower levels of understanding and knowledge.

Post a Comment