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What to Know about Technical Debt

What to Know about Technical Debt

Technical debt costs companies across America billions of dollars each year. This creeping problem can slow work and create new work for developers, and it only worsens over time. If you don't work on the technical side of things, you may not even know when it happens.

Keeping your technical debt down requires more than just knowing what technical debt is. It takes conscious effort from both the development team and management, and most companies have no system to manage technical debt. Keep reading to learn about technical debt and what you can do to get ahead of it.


Technical Debt Definition

Technical debt refers to the work that coders will need to do to make more flexible code. The original code for your custom business application often focuses on getting it up and running rather than compatibility with future features. Terms like design debt or code debt refer to the same idea.

For an example of "debt code," consider a simple program that rolls a die and counts every time the number that comes up is in the upper half of the values. Having it increment every time it sees the numbers four through six would be a simple solution. However, if you later find you need to use twelve-sided dice as well as six-sided dice, you've incurred technical debt. Catching output of four through six won't work correctly on the twelve-sided dice. You would need to change the way the system thinks about the "upper half" of the values.

Technical Debt Causes

Technical debt occurs for many reasons. Sometimes these reasons happen on the development side, coming from issues like short-sighted coding practices or poor-quality mentorship. Other times, management causes it by specifying unreasonable deadlines or unclear requirements about how the system should work.

Having multiple projects that rely on each other moving at the same speed also often incurs design debt. For example, suppose two modules come up with contradicting solutions to a problem, that creates technical debt when they must be reconciled. You can also discover debt when you start a new project that relies on a defunct process, or you might find it during a system audit.

Addressing these causes requires clarity of technological leadership. Those setting the requirements for the code should either have familiarity with the process themselves or have technical advisors they trust with a clear sense of the scope of a project.

Technical Debt Interest

Just like monetary debt, technical debt accrues more interest the longer it goes unpaid. Every project that depends on the solution that incurs debt has a chance of breaking when it isn't fixed, in turn incurring more debt.

For this reason, if you encounter technical debt, you should move to fix it as soon as possible. Sometimes this will mean adjusting a deadline or committing to more post-launch support than you intended. If you don't, however, things will get worse.

Stay Solution-Minded

Technical debt creeps up on teams, whether or not they know about the problem. Therefore, leadership should do its best to stay on top of potential sources and mitigate the situation as it arises.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation if you're concerned about accruing technical debt or looking for solutions that will minimize it. We work with FileMaker and other specialized solutions to improve workflows.

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