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MineSweeper Kata reflections

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MineSweeper Kata reflections

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I've attended a few coding dojos where the MineSweeper Kata was used. It has been dojos with both experienced TDD practitioners and TDD beginners. The interesting thing is that both types of dojos have resulted in the same behavior.

The first thing that typically happens is that the group creates a test and implementation for an empty mine field. From here a natural continuation is to add a test for a one by one sized mine field with no mines. At this point there are a few different ways we can go. We can add more mine fields, mine fields of different sizes or we can add mines to the mine field. Each of these paths adds complexity to the solution. What have happened in all the dojos I've attended is that mines are added before one (or sometimes both) of the other complexities.

Before adding mines the code have been very much focused on parsing input but once mines are added we need a good internal representation and a sweeper algorithm to produce the correct output. What I've seen at this point is huge refactoring steps that are hard to complete and the progress of the solution is brought to a halt. I think this happens because the group is so eager to get a complete algorithm so they forget to makes small steps and concentrate on finishing one part (i.e. one dimension of complexity) before moving on to the next one.

But does it have to be this way? I think not. What have happened at the dojos I've attended is that the group every time have started writing end-to-end tests; One input should result in one output. And the group have stayed focused on this even when recognizing the need for a separate parser object and so on. The group have forgotten that they can stub certain parts in order to add functionality in smaller steps and making refactoring possible.

So I think the lessoned learned is that sometimes the best thing is not to start writing separate tests for separate objects (which might happen when the need for a parser is recognized) but rather to stub the parser in order to continue work on the feature you want to add. I think this sounds like the obvious thing to do but still I've seen the same behavior in multiple dojos with both experienced and novices so I guess it is easy to get carried away. But whenever refactoring feels painful you should probably stop what you're doing, take a step back and look at the situation and make sure you're doing the right thing. There might be a less painful way forward that you're missing.

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