Exploration Through Example

Example-driven development, Agile testing, context-driven testing, Agile programming, Ruby, and other things of interest to Brian Marick
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Fri, 07 Feb 2003

Simplicity and complexity, programmers and testers

Glenn Vanderburg writes a well deserved paean to Ward Cunningham:

I have a strong preference for simplicity in software, and I'm frequently frustrated by people who seem to value complexity instead, and who don't seem to understand why the simpler solution is usually preferable.

But I shouldn't be so hard on them, I guess, because it's all a matter of degree. There are designs that are too simple for me to really grasp. And I don't mean designs that are too simple to work; I mean designs that seem too simple to me, because I don't understand how the simple solution meets all the needs. Want examples? Take a look at nearly everything Ward Cunningham does.

That made me think. Simplicity and the related notion, elegance, are typically considered virtues in software development, as they are in mathematics. They're virtues often honored in the breach, that's true. But they are nevertheless known virtues. The makers of grotesquely bloated specifications and APIs have at least heard some professor talking about elegance, or they've read Tony Hoare's Turing Award lecture ("There are two ways to design systems: make them simple enough to be obviously right, or make them complex enough not to be obviously wrong."), or they've heard of Ritchie's rule that good OS design comes when, any time you add a system call, you have the discipline to take another one out. (I'm dating myself terribly with these examples - maybe I should talk about POJOs.)

But, while simplicity is part of the culture of programming, it's not part of the culture of testing. In fact, testers seem to revel in complexity. They believe "the devil is in the details" and see part of their job as finding oversimplification. They especially look for faults of omission, which Bob Glass called "code not complicated enough for the problem".

Whatever agile testing will be, it will mean bringing those two cultures into closer communication and cooperation. Right now, they operate independently enough that the clash of values can mostly be ignored.

Bret's paper, Testers and Developers Think Differently, is probably relevant here.

## Posted at 09:18 in category /agile [permalink] [top]

About Brian Marick
I consult mainly on Agile software development, with a special focus on how testing fits in.

Contact me here: marick@exampler.com.




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