Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Creativity and TDD

I just finished reading a blog post on creativity and speed (Posted to the only blog I actually read regularly) which made me think about Test Driven Development as a creativity booster. Kent Beck describes the TDD cycle as

  • Write a test

  • Make it run

  • Make it right

Step 2 is what intrigues me. He suggests "Quickly getting that bar to go green dominates everything else." (Test Driven Development By Example, Ken Beck, p. 11). "Quick green excuses all sins". I believe Kent's intent here is to keep up development momentum, to be driven by the tests. Moving quicky ensures focus and doing only what is necessary, the point is to ensure that you only write code to satisfy the test. However, Kathy Sierra's post made me realize there is another (perhaps unintentional) outcome from being test driven.

I have discovered an interesting side-effect to being Test Driven - creativity. Making that test pass, quickly, stimulates creativity. I've noticed that during the frantic push to green my mind races for options and crazy (Hackery for sure) solutions to make the test pass. The feeling of 'How can I make this pass, quick! you only have 10 minutes! Time! Time!' is a very invigorating, demanding process, and super-rewarding when that test goes green. Of course, once the test passes, I'm usually left with a horrible, disorganized, non-optimal mess. But I've usually learned something new, or done something creative with what I already know. This is completely consistent with the creativity/speed theory however. Creative thought comes from the messy part of the mind and its not going to be clean coming out. Worse yet, trying to create 'clean' kills ideas. You've gotta get those ideas out and down. Don't think, just go! Get that test to pass then you can clean it up later (refactor).

Refactoring of course satisifies the right side of the brain, where you get a chance to be calm and analytical. Creating organization and collecting tasks, and related concepts. Giving proper names to objects etc. I think this mental flip-flop, left-right activity is what makes TDD appealling to use. The brain is fully utilized with TDD, creativity is allowed to prosper without compromising quality. This may explain why Test Driven developers can't imagine coding any other way.

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