Technical Debt

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"Debt" has negative connotations due to its association with student loans, mortgages, and medical bills. In truth, though, some debt might be beneficial to people. The same may be said for technical debt.

While technical debt might sound like a financial term, it belongs to the field of programming. Read on to find out everything you need to know about technical debt.

What is Technical Debt

Tech debt is also known as technical or code debt in software development. It refers to delaying specific essential tasks to meet a deadline or deliverable.

The definition of technical debt was coined in 1992 by Ward Cunningham, a computer programmer. He wrote an article stating that while the company may save money in the short term, the "interest" from the tech debt, like monetary debt, compounds over time. Hence, approaching the problem makes the initial issues more expensive to fix over time.

In many circumstances, technical debt is a bad thing. However, if correctly handled, it may be a beneficial tool for advancing development. Engineers and team leaders who want to get the most out of it need to watch how much technical debt they're accruing and discover practical ways to manage it.

As a result, the development of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) involves a considerable amount of technical debt and the expectation that the MVP should be rebuilt if it succeeds. Part of the reason for the rise in tech debt is the realization that speed and quality are rarely mutually exclusive.

Sloppy programming, cutting corners, or an abruptly accelerated timetable are all common causes of tech debt. These problems aren't precisely debt in the strictest sense of the word, but fixing them requires the same level of effort.

Example of Technical Debt

The following example further elucidates the meaning of technical debt:

A Visual Basic script can be used for updating a simple Excel macro worksheet (.xlsm). Excel 2013 executes the new VB code perfectly. However, Excel 365 hangs. So, instead of rewriting the macro for Excel 2013 and Excel 365, you send the code into production for Excel 2013, and as soon as the help desk begins distributing Office 365, the macro stops working. Excel 365 has suddenly introduced a new piece of technical debt: the VB code must be reworked to work correctly.

This technical debt meme is a great way to understand what we are talking about:

Why Is It Important to Reduce Technical Debt As Much As Possible

Even if technical debt works well a few times, it can pose problems for both the product and the developer if it isn't paid off on time.

Let’s say you sold your program; if there’s technical debt, the developer may be unable to keep it relevant, leading to customer complaints about the software's flaws. If this issue is not addressed promptly, signals of system failure become a real possibility. As a result, the developer is forced to devote more effort to fixing this issue instead of working on new features.

Technical debt may seem like an easy solution in the early phases of software development, but it can quickly become a problem for both the developers and the end-users. Even the tiniest error can significantly impact the software's performance. This creates many problems for the team working on the product—and for the product itself, since you need to ensure that the old interface and the recently enhanced one operate together without any hiccups.

You need to make sure to have as little technical debt as possible.

The Cost of Technical Debt

If you cannot reduce technical debt, it can cost you a great deal of trouble. Here are a few ways technical debt can cost you significantly.

Reduction in Quality of Code

The more technical debt a project has, the more effort it takes to keep it moving forward. High code complexity, extensive manual testing needs and workarounds for software limitations are just some of the causes for this extra labor.

When a team's output drops, it's usually a sign that someone is losing steam. They are putting in a lot of effort and churning out quality work; however, a large part of the effort is now devoted to resolving problems caused by technical debt. As a result, your staff has less time to develop new services that benefit your customers.

Rise in Product Defects

When developers are pressed for time, they may sacrifice the quality of their work in favor of a hasty solution. Even if the project is completed on time, poor design and coding methods can harm the product's long-term viability.

In the future, new developers have to cope with the consequences of the mistakes made by those who came before them. Bad code design results in an enormous backlog of code cleanup chores for the development team.

A Decline in Transparency

Debt increases the difficulty of figuring out the present state of a system and how much effort is required to add new features. This was exemplified perfectly for our team when we worked on a project at the end of last year. The decision to hardcode different values earlier in the project meant that what was supposed to be a simple UI tweak ended up taking much longer than intended.

A Decline in Job Satisfaction

Technical debt has a significant impact on the morale of your software development team, in addition to the more real-world consequences. To compensate for the inefficiency of their current setup, software engineers must perform a significant amount of manual labor. It takes weeks to complete the modest UI modification that was indicated above. Internally and internationally, this can hurt the productivity of both team members and business stakeholders.

Inadequate Foundations for Future Growth

The technical debt is typically used as a benchmark when the time comes to replace an application or piece of functionality. Business logic can be taken from an existing app to save time, and unknown business needs can be reverse-engineered. The base for future development efforts is shaky if built on top of a system with fuzzy logic and requirements.

Loss of Opportunity

The opportunity cost of technical debt is one of the most significant losses it entails. The team won't have much time for strategic thinking or innovation because they'll be spending much of their day doing operational activities.

Low Team Morale

Because of the accumulation of technical debt, it is becoming increasingly complicated to understand the present condition of the system or the amount of labor required to add new capabilities.

The buildup of technical debt can negatively impact your team's productivity. As production comes to a complete standstill, the team's morale suffers as they fix problems that could have been avoided.

How to Solve Technical Debt in Agile

Technical debt can be reduced or eliminated using several methods. Read on to find a few ways to solve technical debt in Agile.

Automated Evaluation

Manual testing is, for the most part, inefficient. Instead of wasting your time, choose automated testing, which is a proven method of reducing technical debt and Agile software development. Due to automatic debugging cycles and other procedures that scan the code for errors, automated testing decreases code issues.

The Project's Framework

Streamlining your project's structure is an excellent way to cut down on technical debt. Project management software such as Hive Trello can help teams keep an eye on their progress and stay on track. Using code-analysis tools like Sonargraph and Klocwork, you can find, monitor, prioritize and fix code issues as soon as possible to reduce technical debt. .

Establish Coding Standards

Developers should be provided with coding standards and best practices to follow. Technical debt can be significantly reduced when developers follow coding standards and best practices. Pair programming might also help you get better results.

Refactor The Code

Technical debt can be reduced through refactoring. It is possible to improve the code's internal quality without affecting its external behavior by using refactoring techniques. On the other hand, the goal of refactoring is to enhance the quality of sloppy code, which is sometimes referred to as "filthy code."

Inexperienced or incompetent programmers and their desire to find a quick fix may be at fault of this kind of code. It is possible to reduce existing technical debt and enhance your code's maintainability, readability, and efficiency by doing regular refactorings in your team.

Choose a Scalable and Adaptable Architecture

A secure, scalable, and flexible design is your best choice if you wish to avoid refactoring. It is not simply technical debt that is costly, but also real-world currency. Aim towards platform improvements through the use of cutting-edge technologies and architectures.

Summary

Even though the long-term costs of technical debt are enormous, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have. In the right hands, it can significantly impact a company's bottom line. However, for the reasons stated above, technical debt is not lucrative for a company in the long run. So, repay your technical debt regularly if you can.

Stakeholders and technical leaders must work together continually to ensure that technical debt review is included in the backlog and that maintenance sprints are scheduled as necessary. It ensures that the technical debt is limited to a healthy amount.

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