The TDD Lie

The requirements for pretty-much every developer job I see these days includes Test Driven Development. Which is exciting – everyone recognises the importance of unit tests.

In my previous post I talked about how often companies claim to do agile, but don’t succeed in practise. And I see the same thing happening with test-driven development.

It’s easy to tell which companies want to use TDD but don’t in practise: you ask what percentage coverage they have for their code.

In its purest sense, TDD demands that tests are written before any new code is written. If you’re coding in this way (as suggested in  Kent Beck’s Test Driven Development book) your coverage should be close to 100%. Of course, there are other ways one might approach TDD, such as writing business tests before the code. This is definitely better than adding a few tests at the end of a project.

But, if you’re tracking the coverage and have chosen a figure less than 100%, then there is a choice being made about which code is not covered. I’ve never seen a standard coverage threshold working out well. The obvious indication  of this is how often the coverage of projects is just over the required threshold.

I’m a great believer in high coverage (while acknowledging the limitations of that). And if you don’t grow your code with the  tests then you tend to end up with code where it’s difficult to add code at the end.

If you’re listing  TDD in job requirements and not practising it, then it’s worth asking why not. A lot of times it’s a fundamental limitation to the company – we know we should have tests but we’re rushing. It’s the same problem that many companies have with agile – these things are obviously a good idea, but difficult to do in practise.

As Bob Martin pointed out,”You know what you believe by observing yourself in a crisis. If in a crisis you follow your disciplines, then you truly believe in those disciplines. On the other hand, if you change your behaviour in a crisis, then you don’t truly believe in your normal behaviour” (from Chapter 11 in the Clean Coder).

If you know you should be using TDD but aren’t, then you need to ask why not. And, if you can’t fix that, stop lying that you’re doing TDD – admit what you’re actually doing and focus on improving that.

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