Have you ever written a unit test and it seems to take a long time to make green?

What is a long time, you might ask? In my opinion if you spend more than 5 minutes solving the test you wrote then you are in the amber zone that you made it too complex. If greater than 10 minutes then you need to simplify the test. Which might not seem like an obvious thing to do.

This exercise is to help unblock the solving of complex tests consistently and quicker.

The diamond pattern kata on Codewars might make you fall into that position.

The workshop at Agile Scotland conf by Seb Rose motivated me to write this post.

Test-driven development (TDD) requires you to write a test first which helps you to move a step closer to solving the problem. A classic workflow is Red, Green, Refactor. That means write a failing unit test first (red), make it pass (green) and anything that can be done to improve the code quality (refactor). More on classic TDD read The cycles of TDD by Uncle Bob.

Each test passing should give you confidence to commit to master and the pace should be consistent. So there should not be a long slow down in your progress. I will explain more after the first round below.

First round to solving the diamond kata

Be strict and spend 20 minutes trying to solve the diamond pattern kata using classic TDD.

Don’t worry about solving the kata just take note of where you got stuck. Start now and come back here in 20 minutes

Are you stuck about two, three or four unit tests in? Is it testing pattern(2)?

pattern(2) ->
 1
121
 1

Why (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ …

Why is this the test that is stopping you?

Well you might have noticed you are solving the whole of the kata at this point. This is quite complex for our minds to handle all the cases to resolve. We struggle where to start and too many test cases overwhelm our thoughts.

How to make progress?

First brain storm all cases you need to handle to help reduce the overload. Below are some cases you need to cover:

  • Spacing for each row
  • Increment number to row number and then decrement to one to reflect the numbers e.g. 12321
  • Add new line at end of each row
  • Reflect the top half to form the diamond

(Add some more cases to solve the kata)

Recycling your test

The idea is to solve each of these cases one at a time by updating the assert to handle the next case. Don’t make another assert as the previous one will break. Essentially progress by tweaking the test until it gets to the point it is useful for regression and meets the requirements.

Notably the TDD workflow pattern will differ from the usual red, green, refactor as you will be on the same unit test. It will be more like red, green, tweak test, green, tweak test, green, … until you solve it.

Second round to solving the diamond kata

Try again and spend 20 minutes trying to solve the diamond pattern kata using this recycling method.

After the 20 minutes there should be a better feeling of progress instead of feeling overwhelmed and blocked.

Conclusion

I found this a useful approach for solving complex problems in the TDD workflow. Remove that nagging worry writing a complete function, instead break the problem down into manageable chunks and this will provide confident progression.

Has this helped you solve the kata? Please write comments below on what you think of this approach below.