Technical debt – all you need to know

Technical debt – all you need to know

The world keeps accelerating, which translates into quicker business decisions and processes. And although speed is understandable and often necessary, it may result in technical debt. Here are some details.  

What is technical debt?

In software development, the term technical debt (also known as tech debt or code debt) is used to describe the cost of additional work caused by choosing a quicker and easier solution instead of an approach that is better but would take longer

The phrase was first used in 1992 by Ward Cunningham, a pioneer in design patterns and extreme programming, who explained that while a “quick and dirty” solution may be better short-term, in the long run, it may become problematic mainly because of the increasing costs of fixing it.

While technical debt is often negative, it does not need to be so. If managed and dealt with in the right way, it can become a helpful tool, allowing for quicker development when required. 

Causes of tech debt

To best understand the causes of tech debt, let’s look at the graph showing technical debt quadrants.

As per the graph, we distinguish four causes of tech debt: deliberate and reckless, reckless and inadvertent, deliberate and prudent, and inadvertent and prudent. While deliberate tech debt is a result of a decision made by a software development team for the sake of quicker delivery, inadvertent debt happens without any decision, accidentally. 

How does a tech debt start?

Tech debt usually begins with time pressure. Software development teams, trying to deliver a product quicker than it usually takes, sometimes decide to leave some bugs unfixed or fix them later. While such an approach may help them get the software done quickly, in the long term unaddressed bugs that accumulate may cause bigger and more expensive to fix problems.

How to measure tech debt?

While technical debt is sometimes necessary and may even be beneficial, it is crucially important to know about it and always address it rather than leave it be. To do so, tech debt needs to be properly measured. How to go about it?

A good way of measuring and illustrating tech debt is a technical debt ratio or TDR – the ratio comparing the cost of fixing the problems to the cost of building the software.

Technical Debt Ratio = (Remediation Cost / Development Cost) x 100%

TDR can be used to make stakeholders realize that paying off the technical debt is beneficial and in long term, it will always mean savings. 

Many tools can be used to calculate TDR, such as:

  • Stepsize,
  • SonarQube,
  • Kiuwan.

Once you know your TDR, it is important to establish when your tech debt should be paid. 

How to manage technical debt?

While the best solution for managing tech debt would be not to have it in the first place, it is often impossible to achieve. This is why for software developers measuring it and communicating it to the stakeholders is the first and most important task. 

Other crucial steps in the tech debt management process include compliance with good code writing practices, incorporating DevOps and software architects into the software development processes from the very beginning, and determining the size and impact of every tech debt you are about to have before deciding to take it. Creating and maintaining a comprehensive list of all existing tech debts is also of utmost importance.

The right management of tech debt is crucially important in every software development process. At New Digital Street we have the right expertise and experience to help you do it and to solve any tech debt-related problems that may occur. 

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