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Technical Debt

We all dread financial debt, but what about Technical Debt? Technical Debt is a term developed by Ward Cunningham to describe doing something quickly and roughly that will make future changes more difficult. According to an article by Martin Fowler, Technical Debt can be equally as detrimental to your organisation as financial debt can be: Like a financial debt, the technical debt incurs interest payments, which come in the form of the extra effort that we have to do in future development because of the quick and dirty design choice. We can choose to continue paying the interest, or we can pay down the principal by refactoring the quick and dirty design into the better design. Although it costs to pay down the principal, we gain by reduced interest payments in the future. The metaphor also explains why it may be sensible to do the quick and dirty approach. Just as a business incurs some debt to take advantage of a market opportunity developers may incur technical debt to hit an important deadline. The all too common problem is that development organizations let their debt get out of control and spend most of their future development effort paying crippling interest payments. Fowler goes on to note that, unlike financial components, Technical Debt is near impossible to measure effectively. A project manager may notice that there is a decrease in a team’s productivity, but there is no way to gauge the loss of productivity against the amount of productivity there would have been if more time had been put into completing a task instead of doing it quickly. Since Technical Debt cannot be adequately measured, organisations run the risk of having it sneak up on them. Granted, we should keep in mind that occasionally, things need to be done quickly even when taking more time may seem more desirable. We would all love to be able to work on projects and assignments until we achieve what we believe to be perfection, but often time simply does not permit this. Just make sure to limit the amount of Technical Debt you take on as best you can. After all, no one likes to be under a pile of debt.

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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