Take the Time to Go Fast

This week, I have been working my tail off and making what feels like slow progress, but I have been keeping in mind what Uncle Bob calls The Primal Conundrum.

Programmers face a conundrum of basic values. All developers with more than a few years experience know that previous messes slow them down. And yet all developers feel the pressure to make messes in order to meet deadlines. In short, they don’t take the time to go fast!

True professionals know that the second part of the conundrum is wrong. You will not make the deadline by making the mess. Indeed, the mess will slow you down instantly, and will force you to miss the deadline. The only way to make the deadline—the only way to go fast—is to keep the code as clean as possible at all times.

What I have been working on is relatively complex. It is taking way more time than I estimated (I’m horrible at estimating), yet I’m still taking the time to write my tests (and keep the old tests passing). But are my tests slowing me down?

The answer is not always no, but in this case, I would say it is an emphatic no! As I said, I am writing some relatively complex stuff – security related stuff. I would I want to write it and just run a couple of manual functional tests and assume I have it covered? That sounds like a bad idea. What if I ran a bunch of manual functional tests, not just a few? That might be sufficient, but now we are not saving any time over the automated unit tests and I don’t get to save the tests for all the ways the code will develop in the future. Speaking of which, all of those tests I’ve already written are really saving me a bunch of time. All of those tests that stop passing when I add security means that I have to do something. Those tests aren’t getting in my way. They are reminding me, “Don’t forget to take me into account, too!”

Furthermore, Mr. Martin is not really talking about tests per se, but clean code. If you’re writing something complex, what better way to force yourself to break it into smaller, less complex chunks than by writing the tests first?

Anyway, just wanted to dash this off before I get back to the salt mine. I’m still under pressure and I have more tests to write.

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