How to not solve a Sudoku

I found this at Ravi Mohan’s One Man Hacking:

Ron Jeffries attempts to create a sudoku solver – here, here, here, here and here. (You really ought to read these articles. They are ummm…{cough} …err…. enlightening.)

Peter Norvig creates a Sudoku Solver.

Compare. Learn.

To increase the impact, I suggest you read Norvig’s essay first. It’s a great read and the elegance and concision of his solution gave me this tingly warm feeling of sheer developer entrancement. In contrast, Jeffries’ writings on implementing a Sudoku solver by following a test-driven development approach, are just disconcerting. In the end, he abandons his half-finished work after five postings. If he achieves anything, he impressively demonstrates that he’s not exactly an algorithms expert (which Peter Norvig, of course, is).

But, as Ravi says, there’s an important lesson to learn here: agile approaches are about software development, not about algorithm design. To be more precise: they are mainly about achieving software quality, not correctness. It’s the purpose of tests to help the developer maintain functional correctness – not to guide her towards a correct solution of an algorithmically non-trivial problem, such as Sudoku solving.

I think, this is a good example for the old saying “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And it supports my impression that in these days too many people in the development world focus on the methodological aspects of software development and underestimate the importance of fundamentals such as algorithm design.

UPDATE: Vlad Levin goes into more detail on this issue.

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