a little madness

A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free -Nikos Kazantzakis


CITCON Paris 2009: Mocks, CI Servers and Acceptance Testing

Following up on my previous post about CITCON Paris, I thought I’d post a few points about each of the other sessions I attended.

Mock Objects

I went along to this session as a chance to hear about mock objects from the perspective of someone involved in their development, Steve Freeman. If you’ve read my Four Simple Rules for Mocking, you’ll know I’m not too keen on setting expectations, or even on verification. I mainly use mocking libraries for stubbing. Martin Fowler’s article Mocks Aren’t Stubs had make me think that Steve would hold the opposite view:

The classical TDD style is to use real objects if possible and a double if it’s awkward to use the real thing. So a classical TDDer would use a real warehouse and a double for the mail service. The kind of double doesn’t really matter that much.

A mockist TDD practitioner, however, will always use a mock for any object with interesting behavior. In this case for both the warehouse and the mail service.

So my biggest takeaway from this topic was that Steve’s view was more balanced and pragmatic than Fowler’s quote suggests. At a high level he explained well how his approach to design and implementation leads to the use of expectations in his tests. I still have my reservations, but was convinced that I should at least take a look at Steve’s new book (which is free online, so I can try a chapter or two before opting for a dead tree version).

A few more concrete pointers can be found in the session notes. A key one for me is to not mock what you don’t own, but to define your own interfaces for interacting with external systems (and then mock those interfaces).

The Future of CI Servers

I wasn’t too keen on this topic, but since it is my business, I felt compelled. I actually proposed a similar topic at my first CITCON back in Sydney and found it a disappointing session then, so my expectations were low. Apart from the less interesting probing of features on the market already, conversation did wander onto the more interesting challenge of scaling development teams.

The agile movement recognises the two main challenges (and opportunities) in software development are people and change. So it was interesting to hear this recast as wanting to return to our “hacker roots” — where we could code away in a room without the challenges of communication, integration and so on. Ideas such as using information radiators to bring a “small team” feel to large and/or distributed teams were mentioned. A less tangible thought was some kind of frequent but subtle feedback of potential integration issues. Most of the time you could code away happily, but in the background your tools would be constantly keeping an eye out for potential problems. What I like about this is the subtlety angle: given the benefits it’s easy to think that more feedback is always better, without thinking of the cost (e.g. interruption of flow).

Acceptance Testing

This year it seemed like every other session involved acceptance testing somehow. Not terribly surprising I guess since it is a very challenging area both technically and culturally. As I missed most of these sessions, they are probably better captured by other posts:

One idea I would call attention to is growing a custom, targeted solution for your project. I believe it was Steve Freeman that drew attention to an example in the Eclipse MyFoundation Portal project. If you drill down you can see use cases represented in a custom swim lane layout.

Water Cooler Discussions

Of course a great aspect of the conference is the random discussions you fall into with other attendees. One particular discussion (with JtF) has given me a much-needed kick up the backside. We were talking about the problems with trying to use acceptance tests to make up for a lack of unit testing. This is a tempting approach on projects that don’t have a testable design and infrastructure in place — it’s just easier to start throwing tests on top of your external UI.

Even though I knew all the drawbacks of this approach, I had to confess that this is essentially what has happened with the JavaScript code in Pulse. We started adding AJAX to the Pulse UI in bits and pieces without putting the infrastructure in place to test this code in isolation. Fast forward to today and we have a considerable amount of JavaScript code which is primarily tested via Selenium. So we’re now going to get serious about unit testing this code, which will simultaneously improve our coverage and reduce our build times.


To wrap up, after returning from Paris I plan to:

  1. Give expectations a fair hearing, by reading Steve’s book.
  2. Look for ways to improve our own information radiators to help connect Zutubi Sydney and London.
  3. Get serious about unit testing our JavaScript code.
  4. Get PJ and JtF to swap the dates for CITCON Asia/Pacific and Europe next year so I can get to both instead of neither! 😉

If I succeed at 4 (sadly not likely!) then I’ll certainly be back next year!

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4 Responses to “CITCON Paris 2009: Mocks, CI Servers and Acceptance Testing”

  1. October 9th, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Ross Duncan says:

    Thanks for the book link! Think I might spare the trees also.

  2. October 14th, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Jeffrey Fredrick says:

    Well we’re thinking about CITCON Singapore in December 2010… Maybe?

  3. October 15th, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Jason says:

    Hi Jeff,

    That could work – I could come just to sample some of the local food :). There is an outside chance that I can make New Zealand, as my return to the southern hemisphere is not yet fixed, so we’ll wait and see.

  4. October 17th, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    software download says:

    ..and maybe CITCON Bucharest in may 2010?….if this possible? thx!

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