I ran into a problem today. The solution was not obvious, so I thought I’d blog about it, if only to grease the blog’s rusty gears.

I write and maintain a lot of SQL for my team’s data pipeline. For my latest endeavor I wrote SQL similar to this:

select t1.interest,
       (case t2.badge when null then 0 else 1 end) is_badged
from t1
left outer join t2 using (interest, item)

My SQL syntax-checked, but the results were odd: every row was is_badged.

Turns out, the correct syntax for is_badged—for case statements checking for null—is (case when t2.badge is null then 0 else 1 end). This is a dangerous category of problems where the wrong syntax just silently does the wrong thing.

Ok, so I solved this because the results looked just wrong enough that I noticed. The actual problem is that I have no testing tools other than (1) syntax-checking SQL, and (2) eyeballing the results.

The field of software engineering has good and always-improving testing practices. Someone needs to bring these to the field of business intelligence, and I have ideas for how to improve the landscape. I’ll talk to my manager and see if that’s a project (20% time?) I can take on.