3 ways to improve your bullshit methodology

Aug 10, 2007
Marc Cournoyer writes a great post, detailing 5 ways to know whether your methodology is working (or whether its bullshit), specifically re: TDD/XP.

I have been trying to improve my TDD practice for some time now. I am slowly getting better at writing tests first (and just writing tests, of course), but it does represent quite a significant shift in thinking. And, when you're used to writing the code first, as Marc says, that's where you're naturally going to go when the pressure is on. So, how do we stop this behavior? How do we get in to the test-first zone?

Here are 3 things that have started working for me:

1. When you're stuck on what to test, make a list of possible inputs and selected outputs

One of the biggest challenges for me has been overcoming my tendency towards doing something like exploratory testing of my own code, as I write it. This was the bad habit of not knowing what my code was going to do, before I wrote it. I'd spend some time fiddling around with a few lines that I thought might accomplish what I wanted, and looking at output, until it looked right (sound familiar?). With TDD, you have to start by thinking about what your code will output.
Take a second before you write any tests, and make a list of input parameters, and output expectations. Once you have this list, you'll see that it is much easier to know what you need to test for, and it will even help you write your code afterwards, too. This is an easy one, but it illustrates the point:
# PostsController#show
# Inputs:
#   params[:id]
# Outputs:
#   @post <-- contains the Post which corresponds to the params[:id] input parameter
#   OR
#   throws ActiveRecord::RecordNotFound if Post w/id == params[:id] does not exist

2. Make it an exercise and practice, practice, practice

Take 2 hours at home, in your spare time, and give yourself too much to do. Outline more features than you can realistically implement in that timeframe, and go for it. Racing the clock helps, because that's what you'll be facing on a real project. It sounds cheesy, but it has really worked well for me.

3. Use autotest

(the direct link is here, but it seems to be down right now)

The easier, and more comfortable testing is, the more likely you are to do it. Autotest watches all of your files, and when one changes, it runs the appropriate tests. All you have to do is save the relevant file, and look over at your terminal window to see the results. No more hitting refresh in your browser, or even running tests manually.
Marc also told me about CruiseControl.rb. I haven't had a chance to play with it yet, but it looks very cool. The idea is that if somebody checks something in to source control that breaks any tests, they are alerted immediately. Anything that makes testing easier is probably better.

What methodology-improvement tips do you have?