What is Technical Debt?
Technical Debt, also known as Tech Debt or Code Debt, was coined by Ward Cunningham at a conference in 1992. He mentioned that a serious pitfall in software development is “the failure to consolidate.” Tech Debt suggests that when organizations adopt a poorly and quickly developed solution to a software development problem, they might save money and time initially. Still, the hidden cost of this ‘quick fix’ will be paid later.
This metaphor is used to describe the results when a development team compromises one part of the project to speed up another part of the project, the former being the development part, which eventually leads to additional costs and efforts for fixing the project. Technical debt is a consequence of implementing partial or quick software development solutions instead of investing in a more robust and efficient solution.
The classic example of Tech Debt is the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem. Many developers in the 1960s and 70s chose to save memory using 2-digit storing dates: ‘75’ instead of 1975. Eventually, this became embedded in the operational business and agencies. But as the year 2000 approached, everyone realized that date calculation would fail with the 2-digit system; hence, something had to be done. Addressing these problems is estimated to have cost over 100 billion dollars.
Why Does it Occur?
When developing a project, you would plan and anticipate various hurdles and requirements; even so, some things might pop up later. Technical debt is inevitable to project developments; however, if managed well, it won’t lead to bigger problems.
Here are some of the reasons why technical debt occurs:
- Poor Coding:
Many times developers are unable to deliver robust and efficient software codes. This might be due to various reasons:
- Leaving new developers untrained
- Lack of awareness of technical issues in the code base
- Reluctance to adopt the latest tools
- Inability to understand the work
- Time Pressure:
Developers tend to receive heavy pressure from the management to complete the software early to beat the market. Such an accelerated timeline leads to releasing software that might be full of bugs and issues.
- Lack of Technical Documentation:
Businesses tend to ignore documenting project code and infrastructure when running on a tight timeline and budget. This might help them in the short run but having proper documentation helps in the efficient management of workflows in the future.
- Insufficient Testing:
Businesses may decide not to go ahead with proper testing to expedite the release and cut corners. But this might result in the release of faulty software or software full of bugs, which becomes even more tedious to solve later on.
Types of Technical Debt.
- Planned or Deliberate Technical Debt:
Technical debt is not always unplanned. Sometimes development teams are aware that the launch of a product would cause technical debt but still move ahead with it. Developers know that sometimes the right way to do something is to do it quickly. The team deliberately skips some parts of development to reach the market early. Or, there may be a budget to create a basic website, which will generate sufficient income to create a more advanced website later on to fulfill the next stage of a calculated business plan. Some forms of deliberate debt are acceptable as long as they are part of a ‘plan’ instead of a ‘surprise’.
- Inadvertent Technical Debt:
This is one of the most frustrating types of technical debt. It usually occurs due to errors and a lack of deliberate monitoring. This often happens when a project is worked on without a proper understanding of the original design.
- Unavoidable Technical Debt:
Even if you plan everything, not every problem can be foreseen. This debt occurs over a period of time. As systems evolve, you might realize that your system needs to be refactored for better functionality. If your product is based on a third-party system, then any change done by the third party can lead to the creation of tech debt.
What is the Impact?
Technical debt leads to not only loss of money but also time and resources spent, which could be saved if the work was efficiently done the first time. Technical debt has a significant impact on your business in many ways:
- Inability to Move Forward:
Tech debt can decrease your ability to innovate and execute new ideas. Your development teams would be busy paying off the past projects and hence won’t be able to provide resources for newer projects. The cost of technical debt is then repaid by letting go of greater opportunities.
- Poor Performance:
A poorly written software code leads to poor and volatile performance. If your system crashes due to high-volume traffic or editing of code, it again leads to an increase in tech debt.
- Dissatisfied User:
A buggy code in software results in poor user experience and lack of satisfaction. This leads to customers leaving and also higher expenses of fixing.
- Longer Development Cycles:
When the tech debt increases, it becomes harder for developers to split time between adding new features and correcting older ones. This eventually leads to a slower building process and slower release in the market.
During the OOPSLA 1992 conference, Ward Cunningham mentioned in his Experience Report, “Although immature code may work fine and be completely acceptable to the customer, excess quantities will make a program unmasterable, leading to the extreme specialization of programmers and finally an inflexible product.”
To stay out of technical debt, you need to balance time, quality, and cost. Businesses need to understand that quick solutions drain out quickly, and it is crucial to keep technical debt in mind before moving ahead with any project.
We at White Label IQ believe in stopping technical debt at its very root and not letting it grow unmanageably. White Label IQ provides an advanced service offering that keeps technical debt in check.