What is Technical Debt and How Can You Overcome It?

The ROOM
4 min readSep 13, 2023
Image Source: Freepik

by George Ionita

You’re a member of a development team. It’s time to conduct a thorough code review, but the pressure and constant reminders of the product release dates loom over your head. So what do you do? You apply a number of quick fixes to your code and keep it pushing. The product isn’t perfect, but on the surface, it’s presentable, and what’s important right now is meeting your release deadlines. After all, you’re “building the plane while flying it”, and you’ll get to fixing the existing issues later… until you don’t. What you’re doing is accumulating technical debt.

Technical debt is described as the cost of the additional work that arises from taking the quickest solution instead of the most efficient one in software development.

Like financial debt, we take on technical debt when we need something now, but lack the resources to obtain it fully. In the software development process, it accumulates when developers take shortcuts to meet a deadline or quickly implement a new feature, instead of following the best practices and standards.

Common Technical Debt Pitfalls and Consequences

The quick fixes that developers employ are sometimes necessary, but they aren’t without their risks. One common pitfall is “hacking” code together to get a feature out quickly, without considering how it will affect the codebase in the long run. This can lead to inconsistent, poorly written code that is difficult to maintain and scale. Another pitfall is not following coding standards or best practices, which can further worsen the quality of the codebase. Additionally, not allocating enough time and resources to properly address technical debt can also lead to problems down the road.

Technical debt can result in code that is difficult to maintain, scale, and test. Over time, accumulated technical debt can slow down development, increase the time required to fix bugs, and even lead to product failure. As a result, it is critical for organisations to be aware of technical debt and manage it properly.

How to Manage Technical Debt and Prevent It From Ballooning Into a Bigger Problem

Image Source: Kislay Verma

Often, the pursuit of rapid development is what causes technical debt to accumulate. To ensure a product remains competitive and sustainable, it’s crucial to strike a balance between speed and quality.

One effective approach is to establish clear development goals and timelines, regularly assessing progress against those goals. This not only keeps teams focused on essential tasks but also helps manage and address technical debt.

Another approach is to prioritise addressing technical debt alongside new feature development and allocate resources to address it accordingly. To ensure this is successful, developers would need to follow coding standards and best practices, perform regular code reviews, and refactor code as needed to keep the codebase clean and maintainable.

Adopting agile software development methodologies, which emphasise iterative development and continuous feedback, can also prove useful in tackling technical debt. Such methodologies can help teams move quickly while also addressing technical debt in small, manageable chunks that can be gradually addressed over time.

Effective Tools for Managing Technical Debt

A simple tool that helps with managing technical debt is a technical debt backlog. This allows developers to prioritise and track technical debt issues, better understand the scope of the technical debt problem and allocate resources accordingly.

Additionally, code analysis tools can be used to catch issues early in the development process. These tools can help identify potential technical debt issues and recommend solutions for addressing them.

Development teams can also invest in automated testing and CI/CD pipelines, which help in catching faults early and prevent technical debt from accumulating. This involves setting up automated tests that run every time code is checked in, as well as automated deployment pipelines that ensure that code is deployed in a consistent, reliable manner.

Conclusion

It’s important for organisations to understand that technical debt is an inevitable part of software development, but it can be managed properly with the right processes and tools in place. By prioritising technical debt alongside new feature development and allocating resources to manage it, developers can ensure that their software products remain competitive and sustainable over the long term.

Need guidance on how to navigate common tech challenges like technical debt? Visit theroom.com to join a vibrant community of tech professionals who can support you in every step of your career growth journey.

This article was adapted from “Overcoming Common Technical Debt Pitfalls as a High-Growth Startup”, by George Ionita and originally published by The FutureList.

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