Friday, September 30, 2011

Test code quality: readability and maintainability

Next week I’ll get back into metaautomation, but for now, more on test code quality:

One of those great big life lessons I’ve picked up: in order to understand some system really well, you have to be able to teach it to someone else and have that person understand.

In terms of code, there’s a very high probability that others with job descriptions similar to you will be maintaining the code at some point in the future. So, nurture the habit of checking yourself: what would these future code-viewers think? Would they be able to understand my high-level coding decisions, if I’m not there to walk them through it?

If not, put in a code comment at a higher level of abstraction than the code itself. Brevity is good.

This is especially important to consider when writing methods that are intended as top-level, so no other code in that language in the system depends on them. For example, something that walks the system under test through some steps to achieve some atomic scenario, probably includes a number of steps that might not make sense to another tester, even given that (s)he knows the product. Self-documenting symbol names are good, but a higher-level comment might add teaching value.

I like to look at this as “beer truck” self-management: If I get hit by a beer truck on the way home today, could one of my colleagues step in and continue with work that is shared with the team? (Don’t worry, it’s just hypothetical, and I don’t like beer anyway.)

A colleague has to – in theory – step in and understand what’s going on. Consider that when writing stuff, and your code (with comments, if necessary) will be better for the team.

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