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, 05 Mar 2004

A draft paper on disciplinary agency

Faithful readers of this blog category will remember that I'm writing a paper applying Andrew Pickering's The Mangle of Practice to agile methods.

I had hoped that I might use the paper both for a seminar Pickering's running and as a submission to Agile Development Conference. I gave up on the latter idea a couple of weeks ago - I couldn't think of a slant that seemed at all likely to get accepted.

I have finished a draft. It kind of got out of control, partly because I'm rushing to fill in a last-minute gap in the seminar schedule. Partly it's that I'm trying to do way too much in the paper.

Here's the abstract:

Andrew Pickering's The Mangle of Practice is about how practice - doing things - causes change to happen in science and technology. He uses "the mangle" to name the way that machines and instruments, scientific facts and theories, goals and plans, skills, social relations, rules of evidence, and so forth all come together and are changed through practice.

In this paper, I present a detailed case study of the programming practice usually called "test-driven design." I show how Pickering's analysis, particularly his notion of "disciplinary agency," applies well to that practice. However, the flavor of this case study is different than those in his book. Its "dance of agency" gives the lead to disciplinary agency. Disciplinary agency is less source of resistance, more a causal force in modeling and goal setting.

Why the difference? Pickering's book presents an ontology. I suggest that ontologies, too, are mangled in practice.

The paper is in three parts. The first is a rather long story of a refactoring. It's not momentously different than every other story of refactoring you've read: I notice code smells, I change the code, I'm sometimes surprised by where I end up. The only two novelties are that the refactoring happens after I make a FIT test pass, and that I'm coding in the FIT-first style where you write the test-passing code in the fixture and pull out domain objects a bit at a time.

After that I look at the differences between my story and Pickering's story of Hamilton's discovery of quaternions. Where Pickering talks about the world resisting human effort, I talk about the world alternately pushing me around and attracting me.

Finally, I suggest that all this talk about "what the world is doing" isn't purely idle. The Agile worldview ("ontology") is built up through experience and it affects practice. If you believe software can be soft if only you approach it right, you're more likely to figure out how to approach it right. If you believe that software is inevitably ruled by entropy, then you concentrate your effort on damping entropy. That is, I don't believe that methodologies are inherently either right or wrong; I believe they're made right by people who believe in them.

That section closes with a wild speculation: we wouldn't be where we are today if Smalltalk hadn't failed. Its failure led a bunch of bright people to a new place, the one place Smalltalk had a significant toehold: IT. That very different context forced them to invent. (Because of my deadline, I didn't have time to have the people who were actually there explain to me how completely bogus this idea is... but I'm going to be talking to them soon. After all, it's only a draft, so why not go wild, then backtrack?)

I have no real idea who my intended audience could be (other than a bunch of sociology and history majors just dying to learn about Factory Method and Composed Method). But if you're one of them, I would indeed like to hear your comments.

Here's the draft. Since the only readers I know I'll have are nonprogrammers who've read Pickering's book, I define programming jargon and not Pickeringish jargon. You can find enough explanation (I hope) in earlier postings here and here.

## Posted at 13:54 in category /mangle [permalink] [top]

XP/AU events

There'll be a lot going on, testing-wise, at this year's XP/Agile Universe. I'll be helping out with three events on the program.

  • Jonathan Kohl and I will be doing a workshop on tests as documentation. We want to look at examples and talk about how tests can be better documentation.

  • Bret Pettichord, Paul Rogers, Jonathan, and I will be doing a tutorial called "Approaches for Web Testing". It will revolve around the open source WTR framework, which is a set of Ruby classes that drive IE through COM. One of the things I find most interesting about WTR is the way it lends itself to exploration through the Ruby interpreter.

    This will be a hands-on tutorial. No starting knowledge of Ruby required, and we expect that what you learn can be applied to other, lesser, languages.

  • Finally, I'll be giving one of the keynotes. A keynote should be provocative, both in the normal sense and in the sense of "provoking conversation". I like keynotes that people keep referring back to all through the conference. That's the kind of keynote I'll try to come up with.

    But I also like talks that give people something they can apply the next week when they return to their job. I want to do that too.

Watch this space for more info.

## Posted at 12:54 in category /2004conferences [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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Working your way out of the automated GUI testing tarpit
  1. Three ways of writing the same test
  2. A test should deduce its setup path
  3. Convert the suite one failure at a time
  4. You should be able to get to any page in one step
  5. Extract fast tests about single pages
  6. Link checking without clicking on links
  7. Workflow tests remain GUI tests
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