Sunday, March 30, 2008

About the NOOB definition - Part 1

Paul pointed me to a TSS post I missed. Steve Yegge posted some rants about complexity and got to a conclusion about the how good and clean are scripting languages (Portrait of a NOOB ).
I couldn’t post a comment to it, since it was already closed to comments. So I guess I will answer here.
In this first part of a response to that blog, I will reproduce the post I did to TSS. Probably nobody read it since I posted it one month later.
First, let’s summarize Steve’s post (or what I understood of it):
1. Comments are metadata. Metadata is of no use for the compiler, so it can be get rid of.
2. Noobs are comment obsessed creatures, thus metadata enthusiastics.
3. Modeling is a way to comment intention of code in code language itself. So modeling a metadata creation process.
4. Teenagers are obsessive modelers.
5. Classes and in general OO, are metadata in code itself.
6. Static typing is also metadata since the real thing is memory afterwards.
7. Seasoned Programmer is one enlighten creature that does not use metadata, and thus can see the real thing when coding, not ethereal domain models.
What do I agree with:
Metadata is useless for the compiler. True.
Modeling is a metadata creation process. True.
What do I disagree with:
Metadata (at least not all) is not useless. Metadata is important, although not for the compiler.
Probably one of the things Steve Yegge misses in the post is that a language has much more than just telling the compiler what to do. In the DSL post, we talk about languages oriented to one specific domain, using vocabulary and grammar of that domain only. The idea is languages are there to help you solve a real life problem, not to help the compiler. Languages are for you (and your peers), not for the machine. And maybe not all languages are meant for a computer to read them.
Furthermore: Lack of metadata does not mean better code.
Here we talk about two very different issues: Code quality and the actual coding process. One may affect the other. A good coding process should help produce healthy and good code quality.
Any code with or without the comments will execute the same, good or bad. So comments may not add quality per se.
But, adding comment may affect (and improve) the coding process.

Now, here are my definitions:
Coding: Process of describing the solution using a specific language or set of languages.
Language: Set of words (verbs, nouns) and grammar, used to create describing sentences.
Coding Level: Abstraction level at which the solution is described.
Compiler: Entity that will convert a solution description down into another description in another language (usually a more detailed one).
So, for all of you that think that your Java lines of code actually execute, sorry to tell you that is not true. Those lines will be converted into bytecode. And that is another language that will not execute either. It will be converted again into (probably C) calls to the Operating system at hand. And those to assembler codes, to binary codes and then to electric impulses. Lots of compilers, huh?
Well, for each compiler of Level X(n), the language of compiler X(n-1) is a level higher, and contains sentences that entities of that level can understand. And for X(n) those are just a less detailed solution. Since the sentences are actually the same solution, I may say X(n-1) is just a modeled solution for X(n-1) entities, and thus metadata for X(n).
So, metadata is not a useless waste of characters, it is simply of use for other entities that are not the compiler at hand (Junit 4 and TestNG are proof of that). If you fail to see that, is because you are looking at your compiler level, with your actual language rules.
Thus, for me, a NOOb is when you go out the street and start walking, knowing your block (you talk too much about all that is in your block). Teenage is when you have a car and star driving to know your city (you talk about love and other things, not much about your block). Seasoned programmer is when, using a SUV, you start climbing mountains and going out to wild lands and foreign countries (you start talking other languages). You become an analyst when you drop your car and start studying the world by TV and news channels, and fly around in helicopters and planes (you now talk politics, business). You end up being a senior ancient, when you take your ticket to the space station, and see the whole world at a glance, and start talking about future. B)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

TDD or not TDD?

In a presentation by Cedric Beust and Alexandru Popescu at QCon San Francisco, about "Designing for Testability", called "Next Generation Testing", and in his post, Cedric talks about "Test Driven Development" (TDD), and does not talk to promote it. |-|

Actually, he does not talk against it, but simply questions about using it, as if it is a good idea or apply-able to all cases. Cedrics points several problems of using Test-Up-Front technique, and one of his lines is: "Promotes micro-design over macro-design". Follow me on this...

Let's change the last D from Development to Design. A Test Driven Design is that one that is accomplished by basing the decisions on the test (The principle may read: follow the option that is best testable). No one is saying when to test, nor if you create the test before or after the actual coding. We are actually thinking on design, and taking into account one -ility: the Testing one.

Now, from my post about the design levels, (and here is what drove my attention over that Cedric's line), the term "micro-design" is defined as the design decisions the developer makes during the implementation of the "tactical design". Those design decisions should be in accordance to the tactical design, and those should support the strategic design.

Here, the question is now if the Test Drive Design is driving a design level that is not the micro design! Tests, if we talk about Unit and Functional tests as I think TDD means them, are a developers level thing. They, in this case, should drive Micro-Design only, and should never drive other design levels.

Let me explain it in other words: TDD shouldn't tell you what classes to use, which artifacts (queues, files, etc) or which relations between functional units there are. But it may help you decide which call sequence to use, which functions should a class have, which structures to rely on. Those are micro-design decisions, that may later on be refactored.

TDD, used at micro-design level will help define interfaces, improve cohesion and even enforce encapsulation and information hiding (if used correctly, of course, since we can create tests that violates all those best practices). But that is when the developer is creating the operational level descriptions (code). There should be a tactical design in place before doing this. And there should be an strategic design in place before that. We can use the testability to drive some decisions at those levels, but they cannot be the main -ility at all.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Design Levels

Working with developers, I often found them thinking of design as a generic word to indicate "sketch the classes you are going to create".

Of course, I don't share that definition. I think of design as:

"composing the sentences, in a particular design language, that describe the solution of the problem"

That said, I add that there are several design levels and types. That is, you may find out you are designing when you think you are doing something else!

Amnon H Eden and Raymond Turner had some publications where you can read about a proposal for an ontology (using the Intention/Locality). Part of their definition is that the software design should be divided into three categories: Strategic, Tactical and Implementation.

Of course, Strategic design sentences are those for Architectural design, where decisions will impact the whole. Tactical sentences are what we have always call the design, where the focus is local to one part of the problem, and that is abstract enough to be variable. Then the Implementation are sentences that are local, but also the actual execution.

That last one I call Operational design. I also call it Micro Design. That design is the one the developer does when creating the sentences that define the executable solution. Note that the decisions here are also important. Note also there are design patterns to this level too, that are different depending on then selected language (those are called Idioms).

There is another point to this definition of design: We can describe a solution at different levels, and it will be the same solution. The good point here is that each level is an abstraction of the lower level, where details was taken out of the way to clearly see broader requirements. Not all designs can be executed, and not all levels may have all the required details to be able to execute as it should.

Funny, huh?