Debt is a main staple of society. Many people purchase cars, houses, and other expensive milestone items by borrowing money. Technical debt isn’t quite like that, but it can be just as harmful. No, you aren’t borrowing chunks of code and applications with the promise to pay some other developer back. But technical debt accrues every time a quick fix is applied rather than properly fixing the problem.
Rushing components of the application that aren’t seen by the user to meet a deadline? You’re accruing technical debt. Working on a project with little information or collaboration so that the project has to be redone later? Still accruing technical debt. Lines of code that are awful and muddled but everything breaks if they're changed? More accrual of technical debt.
So, how is technical debt like monetary debt? Because the quick fixes here and there can dig you deeper and deeper into debt until it overwhelms and consumes you, and the only sound solution is to declare technical bankruptcy and start over.
How to avoid technical debt: Make sure employees are trained properly, and deadlines are realistic. Schedule aside time in any project for the sole purpose of catching up on code or going back and fixing the issues that had to be rushed to meet a deadline or allow other developers to work.
Make sure a solid and methodical framework is in place for working on projects. Strong documentation, clear communication, and proper understanding of the project and each employee's role in the project can go a long way to ensure that the opportunity to accrue technical debt doesn’t even become an option.
How to remedy technical debt: Face it squarely and deal with it as soon as possible. Understand that spending a few hours now to properly fix the problem will save you a ton of hours down the road when you have to either start again—from scratch—or fix all the problems layered on the original. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. A common source of debt is programming that was done in the early stages of a worker’s career.
Also, understand that not all technical debt is bad. Just make sure that older and more egregious debt doesn’t loom over your career and your projects.
What are your experiences with technical debt? How does your company handle technical debt? Do you have any stories of technical debt that were great teaching moments? Tell us in the comments below.
When not working on his theory of time travel, Cameron T. Philipp-Edmonds is writing for TechWell and its community sites. With a background in advertising and marketing, Cameron is partial to the ways that technology can enhance a company's brand equity. In his personal life, Cameron enjoys long walks on the beach, romantic dinners by candlelight, and playing practical jokes on his coworkers.