Friday, November 20, 2009

Agile Testing, by Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory

Agile Testing: A Practical Guide For Testers and Agile Teams, by Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory

Agile isn’t about speed, it is about quality. While speed is obviously an attractive element of the methodology, if the resulting software is buggy then it doesn’t really matter how quickly it gets released. For many teams, especially young ones, how to work QA into a sprint cycle isn’t clear. This book is an excellent treatise into how testing and agile can work hand in hand.

Unlike waterfall processes, there usually isn’t a separate team responsible for testing in agile. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for traditional QA personnel, though; in fact, a QA skill set is even more important because without a dedicated test team, developers end up doing more of the testing work. With dev executing test cases, the QA folks can apply themselves to exploratory testing, usability testing, and generally non-developer-think testing. The authors state “successful projects are a result of good people allowed to do good work;” this mix of skills and duties is what allows for both speed and quality to be maintained in a project.

What makes this book great, though, is that it covers not only roles and methods of agile testing, but metrics as well. Metrics are always an interesting topic in agile, because each self-organizing team will have different methods, making measurements difficult to standardize. The authors recognize this, and wisely warn against reading too much into the measures, too. “Having the number of unit tests go up every day is a nice bit of feedback... However, it is important to recognize that the number itself means nothing.” In this sense, the implication is that a large number of useless tests doesn’t add value, even if the metric is always increasing.

Easy to read, Gregory and Crispin have authored a very useful reference that should be on the shelf of every agile team.

First Sentence:
“Agile” is a buzzword that will probably fall out of use someday and make this book seem obsolete.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coders at Work, by Peter Seibel

Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming, by Peter Seibel

Fifteen prominent software engineers are interviewed here, focusing on the craft of programming, on how these people approach solving everyday problems in our business. The book evokes a feeling of a computer science version of Inside the Actor’s Studio. Questions like “How did you start programming?” and “What books should every programmer read?” and “What is the hardest bug you’ve ever had to track down?” lead to very interesting conversations about both the person being interviewed and the industry itself.

Surprisingly, these luminaries don’t consistently agree with each other about what is and isn’t important when coding. For instance, Brendan Eich is not a fan of design patterns: “Patterns are really just flaws in your programming language. Get a better programming language.” In the next interview, Joshua Bloch says, “[A book] I still think everyone should read is Design Patterns. It gives us a common language.” There is an element of truth in both opinions, which sparked an interesting conversation at our book club.

I also liked Peter Norvig’s opinion on TDD: “I think test-driven design is great. I do that a lot more than I used to. But you can test all you want and if you don’t know how to approach the problem, you’re not going to get a solution.” There is (rightly) a huge emphasis on testing and software quality these days, and I find it refreshing to find someone that recognizes that all the testing in the world is useless if the software doesn’t actually do what it is supposed to.

Donald Knuth, Guy Steele, Jamie Zawinski (who sounds like an ass), Fran Allen, Brad Fitzpatrick, Dan Ingalls, Douglas Crockford, L Peter Deutsch, Joe Armstrong, Bernie Cosell, Simon Peyton Jones, and Ken Thompson are the other interviews found here. With such diverse backgrounds, common themes such as a dissatisfaction with the level of complexity and size of programs today become even more visible. While I do more (shudder) management than coding these days, I still found this fascinating and recommend it to anyone in the software industry.

First Sentence (From the Introduction):
Leaving aside the work of Ada Lovelace—the 19th century countess who devised algorithms for Charles Babbage’s never-completed Analytical Engine—computer programming has existed as a human endeavor for less than one human lifetime: it has been only 68 years since Konrad Zuse unveiled his Z3 electro-mechanical computer in 1941, the first working general-purpose computer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shatnerquake, by Jeff Burk

Shatnerquake: An Action Novel, by Jeff Burk

Imagine a world where celebrity rules supreme, where entertainment stars are worshiped as deities, where actors are blurred with the characters they play. (No, not this world!) Here, William Shatner is a mega-star and a bit of a conceited ass. (Still not this world!) He is attending ShatnerCon, a convention to honor him, when the followers of a rival (Bruce Campbell, naturally) detonate a Reality Bomb, which brings all the fictional characters Shatner has ever portrayed to life. Unfortunately for the real William Shatner, the copies all have a single goal: to kill the original!

Not even 100 pages long, this had me in stitches. The idea of Captain Kirk, Mirror Universe Captain Kirk, Denny Crane, T.J. Hooker, Bob Wilson, the Negotiator, everyone Shatner has played all running around trying to kill each other is fantastic. The farce gets more violent (and even funnier!) as the various characters begin to interact, and when Kirk finds a working lightsaber it spirals completely out of control. This is a hilarious read, so over-the-top that you don’t even notice how ridiculous it all is because you are laughing so hard!

First Sentence:
Sniveling little sycophantic shits, thought William Shatner looking from the limo’s back seat.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Without Fail, by Lee Child

Without Fail, by Lee Child

Jack Reacher is a badass. This novel opens with him being asked to find the holes in the security detail for the Vice President of the United States by planning a theoretical assassination. In most stories with this plot the attempt actually takes place and the hero is framed for the act, but the author doesn’t fall into this common pit. Instead he is taken into the inner circle of the Secret Service and the action keeps accelerating from there. Without Fail is a real page turner building to a satisfying conclusion. I’ve become a huge fan of Child’s work and look forward to the next one!

First Sentence:
They found out about him in July and stayed angry all through August.

One Shot, by Lee Child

One Shot, by Lee Child

A suburban assassin kills five people in a public plaza in Indiana, but is captured that same day. All he will say upon arrest though, is, “They got the wrong guy. Get Jack Reacher for me.” Child has some great hooks in his Reacher novels, but this one is one of my favorites. The mystery of why a killer with mounds of evidence pointed at him asks for a former investigator instead of a lawyer and the secondary problem of what really happened are both quite compelling. While we clearly know that Reacher is going to be fine at the conclusion, several of his colleagues are placed in real jeopardy and because Child doesn’t use many recurring characters the tension is palpable. It is a shame that Child doesn’t have more people reappear in later novels actually; he rivals Parker (of Spenser fame) for creating interesting secondary personae and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing some of these folks in more than one novel.

First Sentence:

The Hard Way, by Lee Child

The Hard Way, by Lee Child

In The Hard Way Reacher gets involved with a group of ex-military goons running a private investigation into the kidnapping of the group’s leader’s wife and daughter. What started as professional courtesy, though, turns more sinister when Reacher discovers the first wife was also kidnapped five years ago, ending in a murder. Until the exciting conclusion this is less violent than previous outings but more than makes up for it with the puzzles Reacher has to solve during his sleuthing. Intelligent and clever are words that apply to both the book and the hero; Child has another winner here.

First Sentence:
Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china, and before it arrived at his table he saw a man’s life change forever.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Flex 3 in Action, by Tariq Ahmed, Jon Hirschi, and Faisal Abid

Flex 3 in Action, by Tariq Ahmed, Jon Hirschi, and Faisal Abid

I had said earlier I wasn’t going to read any more of the ... in Action series, but there were a few copies of Flex 3 in Action lying around the office so I took a chance. While it wasn’t as bad as the others I’ve tried, I was still left unimpressed. The text is little more than a walk-through of the various Flex API’s, but not detailed enough to be a reference manual and not enough explanation to be a teaching guide. Skip this book and instead look at the excellent video training series that Adobe hosts, or poke around on the Flex Cookbook site.

First Sentence:
This chapter makes the case why Flex is a great addition to your personal skill set or organization.

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