Sunday, October 15, 2006

Backwards: "I wanted to do Unit Tests, but my manager wouldn't let me"

[This was originally posted at]

I've heard this before when I give interviews or meet new developers at tradeshows.  The thinking seems to go that "While I'd personally love to do this best practice of 'Unit Tests', adding them takes a lot longer (like adding a new development phase), which costs extra money, therefore I need managerial approval." This is fundamentally backwards.

The whole point of Unit Tests is that:

  1. They save you time: Obviously with regression testing, but also by stubbing out the context so you can very quickly test things in isolation (without wasting tons of time constantly re-setting up that context). They also help you to see all the boundary test cases, and hence prevent future bugs.
  2. They are free to use - open source tools like NUnit can be downloaded for free and instantly used for your own personal development. It's not like you need to purchase a separate expensive tool, or hire out some auditor to review your code.
  3. You write tests as you develop, not afterwards.

Here's an analogy: Think of your schedule like a bucket, and your tasks are like rocks that fill up the bucket. You can't increase the size of your bucket, or decrease the number of rocks, therefore the bucket (i.e. your schedule) seems full. However, there are gaps between the rocks (just like there are gaps between tasks - like setting up the context and regression testing). You could pour sand into a full bucket, in the cracks in between the rocks. That's what unit tests are like. If you do them as you develop, you can squeeze them into your schedule without overflowing it.

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