Adam Ralph

Software, tea, and snowboarding

Would it help if I spoke to your management?

An important responsibility we have as software developers is to identify the root problem. We’re often faced with problems which, at first glance, appear technical. When a race condition appears, we start writing code to remove it. When we’re told two business operations must be consistent, we find ingenious new ways of implementing distributed transactions.

But when we ask why?, the immediate problem so often disappears.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation during my shift running the “chat with a developer” feature on the Particular Software website.


Hello, how may I help?


Hey Adam

Quick question

ConfigureHowToFindSaga. Can this method be tested?

If yes, how?

An alarm bell started to ring. ConfigureHowToFindSaga is a protected abstract method in NServiceBus. I usually wouldn’t aim to test it in isolation. The test would repeat the production code, and wouldn’t prove anything.


I know it sounds silly, coz all handlers are tested, but we are looking for 100% test coverage for management. 😀

The alarm bell was now deafening.


Hi {name omitted}, I guess this is not the answer you want to hear, but the goal of 100% test coverage is the problem here, and that is the problem I would aim to solve.

Your test would just be a repeat of the production code.


Exactly i understand that as a developer. 🙂

At this point, I started to feel sorry for this person. They understand why a goal of 100% test coverage is usually a bad idea, but their hands are tied by management. I cut to the chase:


Would it help if I spoke to your management?

When the chat started, I was in the middle of a pairing session with a colleague over a video call. When I wrote this line, he snorted with laughter. True, the comment was a little tongue-in-cheek, but I felt compelled to write it. My correspondent saw the funny side and declined the offer with a laughing emoji, but he said he would go back to management and challenge the rule.

The following weekend, I was out hiking and thinking about the conversation (yes, I have trouble switching off). It dawned on me that this wasn’t such a silly offer after all. I played out an imaginary conversation with management in my head, and realised how valuable the conversation could have been. After all, if management is causing the problem, why not fix management?

When I’m posed a problem through chat, a support request, or at a conference or user group, I try to emphasise my effort to find the root cause. I often manage to convert a low level technical problem into a higher level reconsideration. In turn, a better approach emerges which avoids the technical problem and brings further benefits.

The next time I’m in a similar conversation, I may make the same offer again. Who knows? Maybe someone will take me up on it.