About jwgrenning

Hi I've been developing and managing software for decades now. Starting in embedded, but doing more than embedded. Many of the mainstream software development techniques have crossover value to embedded. My mission is to spread some of those techniques to the embedded community. My company is Wingman Software. Please visit my site.

Test Before or Test After, that is the Question

In Jeff Langr’s blog, Jeff responded to an assertion (from someone Jeff calls Schmoo) that writing tests after developing a unit of production code takes less time than using TDD to create production code and its tests. For starters, I am happy the discussion is about when to write the unit tests and not if.

I think a model would help us talk about this issue. It would be great to have some real numbers in the model; that will be hard. But for starters let’s look at a model. Maybe then someone can figure out how to put some numbers to the model.
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Legacy Code Change – a Boy Scout Adds Tests

Here is a legacy code change policy for a team adopting TDD that has a legacy code base:

  • Test-drive new code
  • Add tests to legacy code before modification
  • Test-drive changes to legacy code

Refactoring without tests is dangerous; with all the details we must keep straight, a mistake is easy to make. How many code reviews have you been in where the recommended design changes are not made because “we already tested it”? You avoid the change because it’s dangerous to change code without tests. So, the Boy Scout adds tests too. For more on Boy Scouts, see previous post.

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Boy Scout Rule Applied to Every Day Coding

The Boy Scouts have a rule: leave the camp cleaner than you found it. This does not mean that all the trash has to be cleaned up now, but you can’t let it get worse, and it must get at least a little better. In Bob Martin’s book, Clean Code, he asks, “What if code got a little better every time you change it?” I’ll answer it: the industry would not find itself in the mess it’s in. The industry norm is for code to incrementally worsen with each change.

Much of the time, following the Boy Scout Rule won’t be hard. It’s an incremental strategy. It’s easy to start and easy to sustain. Here are some typical challenges and ideas on how to be a Boy Scout.

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Making Progress in Spite of Uncertainty

At the start of a new development effort, there is considerable uncertainty. There are unknowns in hardware, software, product goals and requirements. How can we get started with all this uncertainty? Isn’t better to wait? If you wait, there really is no end to the waiting, so its better to get started sooner even though there will be some things you decide early that get changed later.
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Agile Design and Embedded

One important realization on the journey from a BDUF approach to an iterative and agile approach is that design is never done. Designs evolve. The waterfall emphasis has been to unnaturally try to control software physics by imposing requirements freezes and burdensome change control. The process of developing software is part science and part creative. You are applying science toward the invention of something. Design is capturing knowledge both about what the end user need is, and one solution to that need.
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Why Test Driven Development for Embedded?

Embedded software has all the challenges of “regular” software, like poor quality and unreliable schedules. It is just software with some additional challenges. The additional challenges do not disqualify TDD for embedded. TDD even helps with some of those uniquely embedded challenges.
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What Should you Expect from a Unit Test Harness

A unit test harness’ job is to provide:

  • A concise common language to express test cases
  • A concise common language to express expected results
  • A place to collect all the unit test cases for the project, system, or subsystem
  • The facilities to run the test cases, either in full or partial batches
  • A concise report of the test suite success or failure
  • A detailed report of any test failures

Story Weight Reduction Toolkit

Stories often start out too big. Big stories are a challenge, and it is not always obvious how to deal with them. Its important that stories be small enough to estimate, to fit easily into an iteration and to have a decent definition of done. This article explores why some stories don’t fit this mold and what you can do about it.

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