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Debugging, a lost art?

465 Recognized Expert Moderator Contributor
NOTE: I posted this on my blog a while back but feel the community can benefit from it.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone post an error message and ask how to fix it. Does it irritate me , you bet it does. Students today have 100 times the resources at their disposal then what I had so many moons ago, yet they don’t (or wont I’m not sure at this point) use them.

When I was going for my BS in Computer Science the instructors drilled debugging into our heads. We didn’t have Google or Bing, we didn’t have e-books to read, all we had was each other and our brains.

I think this fail starts with the teachers, it seems no one harps on debugging in institutions anymore and it’s showing. Read forums and you’ll find hundreds of instances where simple debugging wasnt used. Where typing the error message into Google (or Bing) the answer is there, but the student is just too lazy to go that route.

Sure I’ve asked questions on forums, such as StackOverflow and others, but not until I had exhausted every resource I could get my hands on. I never ask for help until I’ve tried all other options, then, and only then, will I ask for assistance.

Teachers today seem as if they just want to get the students into the real world as fast as possible, thus diluting the programmer poll. In my opinion debugging is 25% of the programming process, yet students aren’t being taught anything about it.

It seems like that these students see an error message and immediately want help, because that’s how they were taught in today’s institutions, and it’s turning debugging into a lost art.

Someone tell me, just how hard is it to type an error message into Google and follow the links? Maybe our teachers need to be taught how to teach, maybe teachers who teach programming classes should know that debugging is vital and needs to be taught to their students.

Maybe these teachers should be required to work in the industry for a few years before they can teach programming, where they can see first hand how important debugging is and why it’s so vital to take the time to teach it.
Jul 6 '12
19 24978
john garvey
50 New Member
As another old codger I say - Long live breakpoints

Kind regards
Jul 30 '12 #11
93 New Member
You know, some of the bad habits come with the first environment you learn to program. For example, I didn't learn about warnings or about treating warnings as errors when possible until I had the courage to learn C++. Before C++, I learned VB.net 2005, which meant you would get an in-code message if your code had problems or a "Build succeeded" message if the compiler found no errors. So, how high-level you start can affect whether you even become conscious of some basic programing skills.
Aug 1 '12 #12
9,735 Recognized Expert Moderator Expert
Can someone help me please!
I'm getting an error: Object reference not set to an instance of an object

*wink wink*

I don't think that I was taught debugging in school either but I also didn't use forums while in school. I used text books, sought help from my teachers and classmates, and used the web to search for help on the problems. The thing is that I didn't really have a good debugger at school...so my code was constantly littered with output statements helping me to track down bugs.

Soon you get to recognise things like null reference errors just by glancing at them...but it takes time to learn what they mean and recognise them.

The easy bugs are the ones thrown as errors in a program.
The hard ones don't throw the errors.

Aug 1 '12 #13
8,658 Recognized Expert Moderator Expert
yea, first comes that those students seem to be unable to read and then they ask in half a dozen forums in parallel.
Aug 1 '12 #14
93 New Member
Well, Frinavale, now you know how I feel on my current project, which is to make my first videogame. Since I don't want to code the whole thing for the next two game afterwards, I am doing the right thing and coding my classes neatly with comments so I can re-cycle the core engine. As a result I haven't run the actual code, so I'm expecting to put up days dealing with the hard bugs once I start putting a demo together (I want a demo first to clean the engine from bugs before I use game-specific coding).
Aug 1 '12 #15
9,065 Recognized Expert Moderator Expert
If you are planning on reusing your classes you would be well advised to run some sort of unit test on them to ensure their functionality.

Remember a good test is written directly from the specification of what the class should do not from knowledge of what the class does do.
Aug 2 '12 #16
9,735 Recognized Expert Moderator Expert
Hmm I find it best to test in small chunks.

I don't like the idea of writing entire classes (that depend on other classes etc) without testing what I have done along the way.

Unlike my coworker who will write 20 classes, not test anything, and then ask for help when it doesn't work...at which point it could be anything!

Aug 2 '12 #17
93 New Member
I don't like to write big chunks of untested code, but I can't test until I have some minimal wrappers done. However, I'm gonna look into Banfa's suggestion. I don't know what unit tests are (I am a self-taught programmer and the only high school course I took was too basic for complex testing), but I will do some research and see how I can use them to clean my classes.
Aug 2 '12 #18
9,735 Recognized Expert Moderator Expert
Unit testing is pretty standard in this industry.

Actually, I remember one course in college requiring us to write unit tests. So, while we weren't taught debugging, we were taught how to test our work :)
Aug 2 '12 #19
9,065 Recognized Expert Moderator Expert
If you had a system made of several processes each made of several modules each made of several classes then:

Unit Test would be testing the smallest possible unit in the code that can be made to run separately, for example a single small class or even a single method on a large complex class.

Module Test would be black box testing the module at the level of its interface or alternatively black box testing a whole process.

Integration test would be testing each individual program to make sure it will integrate properly with the rest of the system.

System Test would be testing the whole system to ensure it meets its requirements.
Aug 3 '12 #20

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