Refactoring Handles Unanticipated Changes

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Sam Gentile is preaching and I am in the choir. I’ve talked about the benefits of unit testing and refactoring in the past, but Sam makes this great point.

BDUF makes a huge gamble that all the business and development people can think of all the X's up front in the "requirements" stage. In my 22 years of software development, I have very rarely seen that this is the case, Why? Many the aspects of design of software and the problem are completely unknown until one begins to write the test or the code. Code speaks to you. It tells you which way to go. Often we need to learn what its saying, upgrade our original understandings. Thats why Red-Green-Refactor works so well. You think a bit, write a test, write some code, and then refactor it based on the new learnings that you have made while doing it.

This is in response to the critics of refactoring and TDD who suggest that software developers simply spend more time thinking about the code up front in order to produce better code. But as Sam points out, what use is better code if it does the wrong thing?

And this point is crucial. When you wrote the code, it may well be doing the right thing. But somewhere down the line, some biz dev guy is going to realize what he sold the client is completely different than what he told you. Now your correct code is incorrect and you don’t have the safety net of unit tests to help you refactor the code to now correct thing. This, Virginia, is how the real world works.