Debating with other Software Engineers

Stackoverflow and the whole Stackexchange network is good for asking very narrowly-scoped questions that can receive objective and preferably authoritative answers that cite documentation or definitions. Any kind of question which is subject of opinion, or liable to elicit debate, is off-topic there. This means that stackoverflow is only good for asking strictly technical questions, and there is an upper limit on how valuable this can be. Sure it can be very helpful when you are trying to solve a specific technical problem, but in the grand scheme of things, it is irrelevant; from a philosophical point of view, it is trivial.

I have been looking for ways to discuss with other software engineers (preferably experts) issues that are related to software engineering but are in fact very much subject of opinion. These are the interesting questions. I do of course already have my own opinions, which tend to either deviate or be diametrically opposite from the prevailing industry trends, so it would be very useful to me to debate these issues with others to see what they have to say. Clearly, either I am wrong, or the entire industry is wrong; wouldn't it be nice if we could debate this and have it settled?

To this effect, I decided to give a few forums a try, to see if it is possible to have debates in any of them. As it turns out, there seem to be very few options available, and things are rather quiet in each one of them; most people seem to be doing nothing but consuming content generated by influencers instead of participating in discussions. In this post I am listing my findings so far. I will be amending it as I gather more information.


Definition: Collaborator

Collaboration, by michael.gr, based on original 'Gear' by Lluisa Iborra (https://thenounproject.com/icon/gear-1031260/) and 'hands making a circle' by Oleksandr Panasovskyi (https://thenounproject.com/icon/hands-making-a-circle-4289633/) from the Noun Project.

A collaborator is a component invoked by other components to do a job.

I noticed that I have been coming across this term quite often in software literature, and I have been using it a lot, but without ever having seen it defined. So, I tried searching for its definition, but could not find any. After asking on softwareengineering.stackexchange.com, someone pointed me to what is in almost all certainty the original definition, but it turns out that it is very old, and slightly problematic, so I thought I should provide a modern definition here, at the very least for referring to it when I use the term in my own writings.

Origin of the term


On Mock Objects and Mocking

Mocking by michael.gr, based on 'mock' by 'Iconbox' from  https://thenounproject.com/icon/mock-2657532/


The practice of using Mock Objects in automated software testing is examined from a critical point of view and found to be highly problematic. Opinions of some well known industry speakers are cited. The supposed benefits of Mock Objects are shown to be either no real benefits, or achievable via alternative means.



Collaboration Monitoring

Collaboration Monitoring by michael.gr based on original work 'monitoring' by Arif Arisandi and 'Gears' by Free Fair & Healthy from the Noun Project.

An automated software testing technique is presented which solves the fragile test problem of white-box testing by allowing us to ensure that the component-under-test interacts with its collaborators according to our expectations without having to stipulate our expectations as test code, without having the tests fail each time our expectations change, and without having to go fixing test code each time this happens.


On Test-Driven Development (TDD)

Conceptual illustration of Test-Driven Development, by michael.gr

Let me get one thing out of the way first: I am open to Test-Driven Development (TDD). I am not currently practicing it, because when I gave it a try some time ago it did not seem to work for me, but I do not have any objections to it in principle, so I might give it another try in the future. Let us just say that it was not love at first sight, but then again some relationships do take some time to warm up.

Having said that, let me now express a few reasons why I am skeptical of TDD. The previous paragraph should have established that I am not trashing TDD, I am just expressing some reservations.


So the "master" branch is not kosher anymore

The origins of the debate go so far back that they are lost in the mists of time, but a good starting point (which contains references to prior debate) is an Internet Draft from 2018 titled Terminology, Power, and Inclusive Language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs. Some especially woke communities like the Python community had already started applying some of the recommendations in this draft as early as 2019, but things really picked up steam in 2020, with the murder of George Floyd.


On messages and message-passing

Over the decades, numerous software system architectures have emerged which require invocations across subsystems to be done via message-passing instead of programmatic interface method calls. Such architectures are so common that many programmers have come to regard message-passing as an end in and of itself, oblivious of the fact that it is nothing but a (poor) technical mechanism for accomplishing a certain architectural goal.



The Intertwine Logo, by michael.gr


A mechanism is described for automatically converting method invocations of any programmatic interface into a single-method normal form and converting back to invocations of the original interface, so that general-purpose operations can be performed on the normal form without explicit knowledge of the interface being invoked. Implementations are provided for C# and for Java.


Jeff Atwood: Building Social Software for the Antisocial

This is only of interest to people who have a significant interest in Stackoverflow.

Have you ever wondered why stackoverflow is exactly the way it is? Here are some insights.

(Note: this presentation violates one of the cardinal rules of presentations, which is to avoid long texts, so here is a tip: ignore every screen that contains a long text, just listen to what Jeff Atwood is saying.)


IntelliJ IDEA can now exclude methods from code coverage

Screenshot from "What's New in IntelliJ IDEA 2022.3"

The latest version of IntelliJ IDEA supports a new option for excluding certain methods from code coverage by annotation, and it is the result of a feature request posted by me!