I’m currently reading The Box by Marc Levinson. It is a fascinating book that chronicles the changes in the shipping industry brought about through the introduction of shipping containers. It sounds dry, but it’s not. The innovators faced huge barriers, including governments, labour unions, and standards committees. I have such deep respect for Malcom McLean for persisting through the insurmountable bureaucracy.
At one point, they discuss how a particular design aspect of the container was deemed unsuitable and had to be rectified:
They agreed on the tests that fittings would have to pass, and then two engineers, one British, one American, were sent to a hotel room with their slide rules and told to redesign the fitting so that it could pass the tests. – The Box, Chapter 7.
It was 1967.
In technology, we have a long history of ignoring the lessons from the past. We like to think that we’re innovators and pioneers but the quote above proves that the Test First development methodology has actually been part of mainstream engineering for more than 50 years. Kent Beck et al didn’t invent it, they just rediscovered it in the context of software.