Why are you Writing Tests?!

I don’t think I’ve ever met a developer who hasn’t had to answer this question: “Why are you writing tests?!”. Some have given up the practice because they grew tired of that, others have moved on to places where they don’t have to fight this uphill battle. Fortunately, we also have developers such as my fellow Improver Harold, who believes in and follows the practice, and can articulate explaining many of the reasons why we test from a developer’s point-of-view.

I have heard many reasons why tests are NOT written and I plan on writing individual posts to tackle those at a later time. For this post, I’d like to offer you my thoughts and answer to the initial question.

Such as with most developers, my answer used to be along the lines of “I write tests to make sure my code works!”. That answer evolved into incorporating “…and it also allows me to refactor my code. Look at how clean my code looks now!”.

However, bugs would still show up with my fully-tested code. Other developers would also have trouble working on fixing it because they couldn’t understand my tests.

After several years of that, I started seeing why it was so hard to get people’s buy-in on testing. Did you notice the word I had bolded on the previous paragraphs? Yup, “my”. I was making it all about me.

Many people use the following analogy to justify writing tests: “Doctors scrub their hands before working with a patient, because that’s the right thing to do!”, or something along those lines.

Do the doctors do it for themselves? Nope.

So the short answer to our initial question here (“Why are you writing tests?”) should be: I am doing that for you!

Or, a slightly longer elaboration:
I am doing it to make sure what we are building reflects the needs of the business as we understand it now.

This inversion in the motivation changes the dynamics of the relationship considerably; if our practices bring value to others, we’re way more likely to get their buy-in.

This realization didn’t come to me overnight. As I check out my posts on testing, I realize the first one dates back to 2008 and in it I say it was 2003 when I first heard of unit tests. Maybe my motivation shifted when I went from Arrange-Act-Assert to Given-When-Then. From that, the next step had to be the “No GWT? No code!” approach.

To wrap up this post, I’ll drop the quote I have on my business card:

“What you do matters, but WHY you do it matters much more.” – unknown

And also

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek

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