Monday, October 26, 2009


If you really don't care you aren't going to know it's wrong. The thought'll never occur to you. The act of pronouncing it wrong's a form of caring.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a book that you'll either love or hate. To some, it is a bombastic restatement of ideas that everyone already knows. To others, a lightweight gateway to heavyweight philosophy. And then there are people who believe it changed their life. I can't say that I'm one of the latter, but the book resonates with me on many levels, and I've reread it every few years since I was 15.

I recently paraphrased the above quote in a presentation on testing and coverage. The main point of my presentation was that 100% coverage does not guarantee sufficient testing; an audience member asked the obvious question “then how do you know that you've written enough tests?” My answer can be paraphrased as “you've written enough tests when you feel comfortable that you've written enough.”

Not a terribly good answer, to be honest. It did, however, set up my closing slide, which pointed out that you need committed, test-infected developers to get good tests. If you don't have that, you might as well buy a tool that throws random data at your code. But how does one arrive at the level of caring needed to write good tests? And is it inborn, or something that comes from experience?

I've been thinking about these questions this morning, because I'm refactoring some code and am left with what I consider an ugly method call: if called in one situation I want it to throw an exception, if called in another I want it to fail silently and return null. I've been puzzling over whether I really need to break the method into two parts, and also whether I should think more about another quote from Pirsig:

What's more common is that you feel unpeaceful even if it's right

Sometimes, perhaps, good enough is good enough.

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