Discovering the importance of hygiene in software engineering

Last month I spent a week with Uncle Bob (Robert C. Martin). First I attended a three day course about “Test-Driven Development and Refactoring Techniques” hosted by ProgramUtvikling. Then we hired him for two days at my company to do some direct coaching for a small development team. Of course, I learned a lot about test-driven development, refactoring, astrophysics and software professionalism. But there was one thing he said that I have been thinking about a lot – he suggested that the “discovery” of test-first in software engineering might be compared to the discovery of the importance of hygiene in hospitals by Ignaz Semmelweis in the middle of the 19th century. These days it seems like a lot of professionals are accepting the importance of test-first in software engineering. But there are still large groups of software developers that are very ignorant to what is happening in the industry. Some programmers will probably never get it, these are the once proudly claiming that; “this new stuff about test first and unit tests applies only to web-kiddies”, or “We are real programmers and we know how to write real code”. While others, in particular C programmers, often uses the lack of tool support as a bad excuse for not following principles of modern software development. I guess the situation we are in software engineering right now is not unlike how the medical establishment rejected Semmelwies’ ideas, just to realize decades later that washing hands before treating patients does make sense.

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