Is It Time to Pay Your Tech Debt?

Meghan Lodwick - 29/11/2019

Technical or Tech Debt isn’t actual money owed – it’s more a metaphor that likens software development to finance. But essentially, tech debt can end up rather costly.

The academic definition of the term is: “Technical debt describes the consequences of software development actions that intentionally or unintentionally prioritise client value and/or project constraints such as delivery deadlines, over more technical implementation and design considerations.”

In layman’s terms it means when you make ‘quick and dirty’ development decisions to get the job done – there are indirect costs associated with reworking shortcut code into an optimal-but-takes-longer solution.

The solution you have, no matter the debt, will work in the short term, but often issues arise in the long term when you look to scale. And the longer you leave it, the bigger the risk of it causing future problems.

How bad is your debt?

There are a few red flags to be aware of when assessing your Tech Debt size. Many of these are also associated with legacy software – a system that may be based on outdated technologies, but is critical to day-to-day operations. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Complaints escalate – if user complaints increase over time or they are complaining about the same issues, something is seriously wrong.

  • Cybersecurity issues – like legacy applications, programs with Tech Debt are vulnerable to security threats, if you’ve had a scare or a major hack has occurred in your industry, it’s time to look under the hood.

  • As mentioned, you can’t scale – if you are losing out on performance and it’s impacting user experience, this is a high flying flag.

  • Integration = nope – modern apps can often work in tandem, if your system doesn’t play well with others, a rework may be in the cards.

These are just a few indicators that your system is in debt or needs a serious update in order to continue to keep everything working smoothly into the future. Really, if you are having any issues with your software, get on it quickly, the consequences can be dire.

What if I don’t pay?

This is where the debt collectors come in. They can come in the form of bugs, which will potentially cause the entire system to crash. In fact the whole system crashing is a pretty big deal – think about the impact on your people, customers, and not to mention the potential PR nightmare.

The more outdated or unrefined your code is, the longer the door stays open to unwanted security threats and the cost of reworking goes up and up and up. If left unaddressed, this can result in higher total cost of ownership, longer time to market and reduced agility.

Where to from here?

The good news is Tech Debt can be paid off in a relatively easy fashion, kind of like Afterpay. Developers can comb through shortcut code and rework it to an optimum state. This can be done with minimal impact to the working product.

Part of this reworking can also factor in updates to the software to the newest versions of the frameworks, application servers, databases and so on. It’s also best not to do this all at once, essentially the Tech Debt possibly occurred under the pressures of a deadline, think of the payback as a series of mini projects.

How do I avoid future Tech Debt?

There are a few ways to avoid future Tech Debt, like developers creating a coding style guide and following it to the letter. Taking the pressure off hard deadlines and keeping the communications line open to discuss challenges and any impacts to the delivery schedule is another way to better project manage so you stay in the black.

Another route is using a low-code solution. Hand-coding can be a big source for Tech Debt given shortcuts can be taken to get to the solution quicker – but low-code reduces this risk. Low-code platforms do the hand-coding for developers and cut that process out altogether, hastening the time it takes to deliver a solution without any reason for ‘quick and dirty’ code.  

If you’re dealing with legacy software or ready to finally pay off that Tech Debt, get in touch with us today to discuss how we can get you out of the red.

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