Russell Whitaker: Test Driven Development in Python: A Quick-start Approach (Review/Recap)

Russell Whitaker, a software engineer at Google came to town last Thursday, August 2, to do a tech talk for a special joint meeting of the Michigan Python User Group and Ann Arbor Computer Society.  While the topic mentioned Python, it was pretty generic and could/should be applied across all languages so I hope that people didn't stay away because Python was in the title. It sure didn't seem like people shied away from the talk; the turnout was great, probably about 60 people or so.  The meeting was held at the Google Ann Arbor office, so I don't know if some people were coming just to gawk, but I think most people were interested in the topic.

Test Driven Development is one of those blessed technologies that has been getting a lot of buzz in recent years.  What I find interesting is that everyone SEEMS to think that they know what it is and certainly some people do, but it's always refreshing to have a talk like Russell did on Thursday, where we don't assume that we're all doing it the same way. One subtlety that Russell stressed that I think is often overlooked is the emphasis on driven, that the goal is not only to test the software, but to drive development forward with the tests that you write.

Russell is a natural speaker.  He did an engaging talk, and even recruited an audience member (Jay Wren) to pair program with him. That was a little stroke of genius as well, in my opinion.  For those people who haven't had exposure to pair programming, I think that the demonstration was particularly effective.  It's important to see how interactive the process is, that it's not one person banging on the keyboard with another back-seat driving.  And, they did their ping-pong programming while sitting on bean bags, which was entertaining as well.

One comment I got after the talk was that part of the purpose of the talk seemed like a recruiting plug to attract Googlers. As one of the people who was in close communication with the organizers of Thursday's event from the beginning, I can really say that wasn't the objective.  The stated objective from the Google organizers was a technical talk, not a recruiting event.  So, I think that two things are in play here.  One, Googlers like where they work, and it really does come across when they talk.  And two, see my previous post. I really do think/hope that they may be checking out the local tech community to see if they can attract talent to staff an engineering office.  I 'm confident that they can. Google just needs to see it.  As an employer in the area, I will admit that it makes me a bit nervous, but raising the bar for creating good places to work is a GOOD thing, for all of us.

Russell's photos are at

Winston Tsang (local Rubyist) also took photos:, including a few good ones of Russell and Jay pair-programming.

I'm always curious about how people find out about events, and so I asked.  Python user group was the biggest, AACS, AAJUG, Ruby group, and a2b3 were good conduits as well.  Others heard by word of mouth (including a few who read my blog, thanks guys).