Test or Debug: What’s Your Style?

Frank Wilczek writes a column in the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition, and one headline grabbed my attention. Better to Test Than to Debug.  His focus was on computer programmers, but the question and implications applies to all of us when we do creative work.

Is it better to draft an entire project (article, computer program, etc.), and then when there is a problem “debug” it, or to view the project as consisting of lots of small steps that you can take and ‘test” before going on to the next step?

While it would seem more efficient to “test” parts before having to “debug” the whole things, yet many people opt for the latter. For instance, as a teacher, I often encourage students to provide me with a brief outline before starting the entire paper, and a sizable number of students prefer to skip the “testing” phase and just hand in the completed work. Similarly, when I invite people to write a guest blog for AgeBrilliantly.org, I encourage them to fill out a simple outline form (the “test”) so they can get feedback first, and instead get full articles.

Wilczek believes that “debugging sucks” while “testing rocks”;  “haste makes waste”, and “the struggle for existence” is the test, while Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” is debugging.  What’s your style?  Why? Share with us.

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