Sunday, November 5, 2017

TDD: Mars Rover

I took some time this weekend to practice the Mars Rover kata again.

My focus in the exercise was duplication - can we proceed from hard coded outputs, and arrive at a viable implementation simply by removing the duplication that must be present?  Of course, the answer is yes -- duplication is duplication; you can remove it any time you like.

I shan't walk through the process here, it should be reasonably straight forward to follow along from the commit history.

With just the one example, I needed almost no investment in the test harness at all; all of my time was spent working in my production code.  Setting aside the one error that forced me to revert, practically all of the work was in the green bar.

My guess is that the process went as smoothly as it did because my previous experiments in the kata act as spike solutions -- I'm not discovering how to achieve the result at the same time that I'm discovering how to remove the duplication.  Removing the duplication is comfortable at each step, because I can see the code evolving towards a design that is already familiar.

This code is tightly coupled to the data representations that we were given for this problem.  Do we need to invest now in the abstractions that would make it easier to change data representations later?  YAGNI says, no, not really; and that's certainly true for a kata in a limited time box.  Make the next change easy is much easier after you know what the next change is going to be.

Kent Beck talked a bit about this in his discussion of triangulation
Triangulation feels funny to me.  I use it only when I am completely unsure of how to refactor.  If I can see how to eliminate duplication between code and tests and create the general solution, then I just do it.  Why would I need to write another test to give me permission to write what I probably could have written in the first place.
Smaller bites makes sense, I think, when the way forward isn't clear.  But the Feynman algorithm also works. So what does that teach us?

Horses, of courses; but I find that answer unsatisfying.

I think it's closer to true to recognize that the tests aren't driving anything; they are instruments that measure whether or not our current implementation is satisfactory over some range of examples.  In particular, they can give us awareness of whether a change we've made has certain classes of unintended side effects.  They inform us, a little bit, about a possible interface.

With the instrumentation in place, we apply changes to the code in increments; not for the design, but because the short feedback cycle makes it easier to localize the errors we introduce along the way.

There are quite a few kata that progress toward a single implementation in increments, what I've come to think of as extending a particular set of requirements.  I think we need more examples of a different sort, where we have to make something new of code originally written for another purpose.

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