What is technical debt and how to deal with it?

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20th May 2020

Technical debt is a phenomenon quite a few software development teams tend to wrestle with. Unlike a bank loan, technical debt is not always a result of a conscious decision. But like a bank loan, it does come with an interest rate that grows over time. What is technical debt and how to deal with it?

What is technical debt?

We talk about technical debt (aka design debt or code debt) always when a project we’re set to carry out involves more and more errors piling up as it progresses. There are many reasons why a software development team may develop a product in a rush, using semi-optimal solutions. It is because of these solutions that working on a project in the long run becomes increasingly complicated and time-consuming; even unprofitable in extreme cases.

Technological quality

A well-designed and correctly implemented platform can last you years while one put together hastily, with little effort, or with no consideration for quality may cause you problems every now and then. Increasing the quality level eliminates the technical debt and makes it possible to accelerate the development of your application and reduce the cost of its maintenance at the same time.

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Who becomes a technical debtor?

Technical debtors are developers working on a software product. There may be plenty of reasons for a technical debt to occur, and many can be beyond software developers’ control.

One such reason is often time. Wanting to catch up with competitors and launch innovative features as quickly as possible or the pressure to create a groundbreaking, unique product are frequently situations which entail a risk of occurrence of technical debt. If the development team decides to take a shortcut in such circumstances, delivering a sloppy code and ignoring the development of documentation, it will contribute to the growth of technical debt.

Technical debt is sometimes also a result of insufficient knowledge. If a project is entrusted to inexperienced developers, they may try to do the job using technologies they’re not really proficient in. No code refactoring at the initial stages of the project or making use of hermetic, impractical solutions are just a step away from bugs in the code and complications that will only grow as the project moves on.

Technical debt symptoms

How can you actually tell if your project suffers from technical debt? There can be many telling symptoms.

The one you’ll find easiest to notice is the growing number of errors. If you see that the project doesn’t progress as quickly as it used to and that your developers grapple with an increasing number of code bugs, you may have a case of technical debt. If the time spent to deal with problems is longer than you invest in perfecting the product and implementing new features, you’re certainly experiencing technical debt.

If the discovered bugs are accompanied by your team being less motivated than usual — or even afraid of modifying the code, it’s really good to think about the reasons for this situation. Maybe the new features were implemented with no initial time estimates, which forced the team to take advantage of the simplest solutions — which often contribute to an increase in technical debt.

Feature migration

Not all platforms are built or have been developed in the right way. An excessive technical debt, using outdated technology, or ill-considered changes of the course of action may make the further development of a platform difficult or even impossible.

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How to manage technical debt the right way?

You’ve realized that your project has been affected by technical debt. Can you fix it? And if so — how? Like in the case of the emergence of technical debt, time is the main factor in the elimination of this debt. The sooner you discover the sources of the problems your project experiences, the easier it will be to set the right course of action.

Addressing technical debt is an additional but necessary effort you need to make to help your team get out of the woods and remove the accumulating errors. The first step in a battle against technical debt is the very awareness of being its victim — which is something you can check off the list. Have an honest discussion with your team. Set an order of priorities. A further development of your product will only make matters worse, which is why you should focus on fixing the code in strategic parts in the first place.

What do you need to bear in mind? Don’t forget about automated tests whenever a developer encounters an error. Do not expect your technical debt to disappear overnight. Improving the quality of the code needs time and a good understanding of the problem.

If you suspect your web platform may be suffering from technical debt, get in touch with us. Our experts will analyze the quality of the source code and determine the level of technical debt. Then, we’ll get together and work out a plan to pay it off.