Some Thoughts on All-Nighters and Testing
I pulled an all nighter last night with the foolish intention of making more progress on my requirements before my IPM today. I stayed late at the office, wrestling with my understanding of how to create new interfaces and mock out objects to make the “server loop” in the my Java http server more easily testable. I had already devoted ample amount of time to working through the issue and actually left the office at a decent stopping point. Unfortunately, and predictably, I decided to keep working. In fact, I actually went to the supermarket on my way home to pick up a RedBull, having already determined that tonight was going to be an all-nighter. Insane… I might have done 30 minutes of actual work the entire night. The rest was spent trying not to fall asleep because the “RedBull was going to kick in any second now” and watching youtube. Now I’ve robbed myself of an afternoon and (potentially) morning of productivity and have very little to show for it -though there were some pretty funny videos I saw.
I’m writing this to remind myself, and anyone else that has a proclivity towards voluntary and misguided sleep deprivation not to give in to it. It’s much healthier, and much more professional to walk away and tackle things anew when feeling fresher.
. . .
Through my apprenticeship, I’ve been continually surprised and vexed by how difficult it is to write good unit tests. Personally, I find it helpful to think of tests as assumptions I am making about the design of a particular piece of software. It’s me saying “based on my understanding of object X and it’s properties I’d expect it to exhibit or not exhibit this behavior . Now, what can I do to verify that it is exhibiting the behavior I’d expect”.
Therefore the prerequisites to writing a unit test that correctly asserts and verifies an assumption are rather staggering. It takes a full understanding of an objects properties and behaviors as well as an understanding how how those properties and behaviors can be verified. Take writing unit tests for my ‘server loop” as an example.
In order to write a satisfactory unit test, I must understand, what a server is, what a server does, what a service is, and what it does, what a client is, what a client does, how servers and clients interact through sockets, what Sockets are and how they are implemented in Java. It’s already a lot to wrap your head around, and then on top of that I must also understand that in order to verify the behavior I’m expecting I need to simulate the behavior of the sockets and service in other objects called mocks, which requires building an interface and other abstractions. It’s a lot.
The good news is that when I do finally write a satisfactory unit test, I can be pretty sure I understand everything that’s going on under the hood. However, this usually comes through designing first as writing tests to verify the design. Eventually, I’ll need to be writing tests first. There’s still a lot to learn, but I’m starting to understand not just intellectually but empirically the value of testing.