Sunday, April 25, 2021

TDD: When the API changes

If I discover my API is bad after writing 60 tests, I have to change a lot! -- shared by James Grenning

My experience with the TDD literature is that it tends to concentrate of situations that are fixed.  Here's a problem, implement a solution in bite sized steps, done.

And to be fair, in a lot of cases -- where the implications of "bite sized steps" are alien, that's enough.  There's a lot going on, and eliminating distractions via simplification is, I believe, a good focusing technique.  Red-Green-Refactor is the "new" idea, and we want to keep that centered until the student can exercise the loop without concentration.

But -- if we intend that TDD be executed successfully outside of lessons -- we're going to need to re-introduce complicating factors so that students can experience what they are going to face in the wild.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

TDD: Show Your Work Designs

I was reading Brian Marick's write up of his experience with Hillel Wayne's budget modeling experiment.  

Toward the end of the exercise, Marick writes:

I decided to write an affordability function that would call the same functions as can_afford? but return rich results instead of funneling all the possibilities into true or false....  Then I wrote can_afford? in terms of affordability.

I've seen this pattern a number of times recently.  It came up during a transport tycoon exercise,  where I started exploring the idea of generating a complete report of a simulation, and then extracting from that report the answer to the simple question.

Before that, it appeared when I started using kitchen sink logging in my AWS Lambda functions; the event handler produces a record of all of the information it has collected along the way, one field of which is "the answer".  The log entry for the request get a detailed document of all of the (not secret) information, and we can later carve that information into smaller pieces.

What the pattern reminds me of is STEM exams in high school; writing out the derivation of the answer long form, with the final calculation circled at the bottom.  The motivation is, I think, much the same; the view of the intermediate calculations is an important diagnostic tool when the final answer indicates a fault.

GeePaw Hill has recently been discussing the Made application and the Making application.  The Made application provides narrow, targeted affordances, designed to delight the end user who pays the bills.  But the purpose of the Making application is delightful (cost effective) making, where the human in the loop has different concerns.

Injecting the Making into the Made gives us, perhaps, the best of both worlds.

I also see similarity between this idea and Ward Cunningham's early description of technical debt; the underlying report is going to be more closely aligned with how we think about the domain than the simple distillation of the answer, and with the long form design in place, we have code that is aligned with the business, and should be easy to change when the business expects the code to be easy to change.

 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

TDD: Unreachable states

 This week, I tried a master mind coding exercise, two different ways.

Mastermind was a code breaking game from my childhood; each incorrect guess returns a hint, describing how close your guess was to the goal.

At the Boston Software Crafters meetup, our breakout room first attacked the problem of identifying all 5000+ codes (ten letters, but no repeats).  Once we got that sorted, we then started working on implementing the filters we would need to eliminate candidates.  And progress, though steady from that point, was slow - we had to think a lot about what the next guess might be.

Working the problem on my own the next day, I made two changes to my approach - I deliberately introduced an (untested) adapter between the game client and my more easily tested design, and then with that more easily tested design I started working with unreachable candidate lists.

By unreachable, what I mean is that there is no sequence of guesses that would eliminate all of the other possibilities and leave just the two samples that I had selected.

Although the samples were not reachable, they were easy to reason about.  I could concentrate my attention on how the new logic should interact with these two data points, ignoring all of the other considerations as "out of scope".

In the end, my test suite included five assertions, never more than two lines of code per assertion.  And yet, when I hooked it up to the "real" data, the system worked, right out of the gate.

@ScottWlaschin argues that it can be useful to choose designs that make illegal states unrepresentable; I don't disagree - but I think that some care is required in choosing an appropriate definition of "illegal". Some of the states that you won't encounter in a healthy system are still useful when trying to explore the properties of that system.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dependency Inversion Review

Earlier this week, I decided to dig out a copy of Robert Martin's 1996 article on the Dependency Inversion Principle.

I don't find his example particularly satisfactory, in particular the way that he works the example confuses, I believe, a number of different concerns.  So I thought to try the exercise of a "purer" approach, as I would do it today.

To begin, let's consider the original starting implementation of Copy()

Now,my first priority is that I not break any existing clients. So my intention is to refactor this code without changing the behavior or the signature.

That means I'm going to work my way up to an "extract function" refactoring, where the new function has the re-usable design that we are looking for.  

To begin, we need to think about replacing our dependencies on the I/O functions with abstractions.  Martin dives quickly into "objects" to address this in his examples, but that seems an imprecise hammer to use, given that functions already permit a perfectly satisfactory abstraction - the function pointer.

With an couple of variables to capture the functions we are invoking in our default implementation, it's not trivial to extract our improved method.

And done.

There's no particular magic to the fact that I use function pointers here.  In the kingdom of nouns,  these would be abstraction class instances or interfaces.  In a language like python, it would be a "callable".

Note that we have changed the code by adding a third leaf dependency to the copy function.  Copy() is otherwise a lot simpler, but mostly because we've stashed the complexity under another card.  If CopyV2 is part of the published interface, then we have introduced a new capability that allows consumers to provide substitutes for ReadKayboard and WritePrinter; CopyV2 is likely easier to test than its predecessor.

On the other hand, we're introducing the liability of more code now, in the hopes of accruing some benefit later.  And this isn't a particularly difficult refactoring to introduce "later".

Is the ease with which this refactoring can be introduced representative of the code that we encounter in the wild?  I believe so - but spaghetti code is certainly a thing, and this example doesn't obviously demonstrate that handling entanglement is trivial.