From pseudo-code to code

This post is probably not about what you’re thinking. It’s actually about automated testing.

Different stuff I’ve been reading or otherwise been exposed to in the last weeks has made me reach a sort of funny comparison: code is (or can be) like science. You come up with some “theory” (your code) that explains something (solves a problem)… and you make sure you can measure it and test it for people to believe your theory and build on top of it.

I mean, something claiming to be science that can’t be easily measured, compared or peer-reviewed would be ridiculous. Scientists wouldn’t believe in it and would certainly not build anything on top of it because the foundation is not reliable.

I claim that software should be the same way, and thus it’s ridiculous to trust software that doesn’t have a good test suite, or even worse, that may not even be particularly testable. Trusting software without a test suite is not that different from taking the word of the developer that it “works on my machine”. Scientists would call untested science pseudo-science, so I am tempted to call code without tests pseudo-code.

Don’t get me wrong: sure you can test by hand, and hand-made tests are useful and necessary, but that only proves that the exact code you tested, without any changes, works as expected. But you know what? Software changes all the time, so that’s not a great help. If you don’t have a way to quickly and reliably measure how your code behaves, every time you make a change you are taking a leap of faith. And the more leaps of faith you take, the less credible your code is.