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Picture this: you’re 11, playing outside with friends, and it’s getting late. You realize you need to get home fast. What do you do: walk home per usual on the sidewalk (but be late), or cut through backyards of people you don’t know?

Sure, the shortcut sounds like the best option. But when you’re grounded for tearing up a garden you didn’t know existed, you’ll realize that timesaver wasn’t really worth it. 

Est Time: 10 Min

Share Share Share

Picture this: you’re 11, playing outside with friends, and it’s getting late. You realize you need to get home fast. What do you do: walk home per usual on the sidewalk (but be late), or cut through backyards of people you don’t know?

Sure, the shortcut sounds like the best option. But when you’re grounded for tearing up a garden you didn’t know existed, you’ll realize that timesaver wasn’t really worth it. 

Now how does this tie into tech? When building something new, you always have two options: build it fast and at a low cost, or build it with quality. Although the shortcuts sound great now, you may be paying for it later in the form of Tech Debt.

Today, you’ll learn what Tech Debt is, what it can look like in your business, why it’s a problem, and how to avoid it. 

Summary

Technical Debt is the result of cutting corners when building tech. While it can save time and money upfront, tech debt can negatively impact innovation, maintenance, and scalability.

You can limit Tech Debt’s effect on your company by starting with realistic expectations, setting time aside for testing, ensuring quality is the focus, and understanding when it’s time to move on.

What is Tech Debt?

Technical Debt, usually abbreviated to Tech Debt, is what happens when shortcuts or missteps are used to implement technology. These things lead to unscalable tech, legacy code with bugs, or required documentation missing. 

Whether for speed, cost, or something else, Tech Debt happens when quality or doing things ‘correctly’ isn’t the main priority. 

Tech Debt is usually not done on purpose. You and your team may not know the consequences of building something quickly and in-expensive, especially if it’s your first time building tech. If speed and cost are your two main priorities, tech debt may be in your future.

Tech Debt isn’t always a bad thing; it can be an easy place to identify ways to innovate. If you see Tech Debt as an area to improve, it can be a guiding piece for your roadmaps.

Related Blog: How to Build a Technology Roadmap

Why is Tech Debt a Problem?

Good question: we did just say that it’s not always an issue. However, most of the time Tech Debt is more of a hindrance than help. Let’s check out the ways Tech Debt can hurt your business.

Innovation

If you’ve tried to grow your business, you know that it’s an all-hands-on-deck affair. You need support from every area of your organization to innovate. So what if your tech team is stuck fighting old tech’s fires?

There’s the saying you shouldn’t build your house on sand: If your foundation is unstable and shifting, you shouldn’t try to build parts on top of it. Tech debt catches up to you when you try to develop more features, but the code is disorganized, inconsistent, or duplicative.

If you try to innovate while the old fire’s are still burning, your tech resources will be stretched too thin to help. And trust us, you’re going to want your tech team’s support when trying to create new things.

Mistakes

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness later than permission now?” The exact opposite is true with tech: it’s easier to fix issues now rather than when it’s too late. You can reduce the upfront technical debt by focusing on the quality holistically now when building a product, instead of cutting corners to speed up delivery. As we’ve mentioned, those shortcuts could lead to large problems later.

Scalability

Steve said it best in our Scalability Video: “You can only scale vertically so far, and that’s something to be aware of. You will potentially hit a cap to where [your] technology can no longer scale past what’s available.”

If you’re building tech without thinking of the required scalability, there will come a time when that product can’t sustain anything more. And if you think tech debt on a system with wiggle room is hard, wait till you try and fix a software that’s quickly at capacity.  

Understanding is Difficult

Think back to your last group paper: was there ever a time when someone wrote a section so horribly you needed to redo it? A code base is similar to a group project: a lot of people working together to create one cohesive thing.

If you’re rushing to build code without proper best practices, standards, code reviews, testing, or documentation, the next person may have an easier time scraping and starting over rather than trying to figure out what’s been built. 

How to Avoid Tech Debt 

We know what tech debt is, examples of it, and why it’s problematic, but how do you make sure that doesn’t happen to you? Read on to see how you can avoid Tech Debt.

Don’t Overwhelm Yourself 

When building something new, you don’t have to have all the bells and whistles for it to be successful; building a tech product doesn’t have to be over the top. The more you add onto a system, the less you’ll be able to ensure it’s built correctly.

Tech debt - more you add less detail

If you have too big an idea or feature set, you’ll have to start cutting corners to meet deadlines and budget constraints. Being realistic with yourself can help to avoid tech debt before it even starts. 

Don’t Forget Testing

When planning out budgets and timelines, you’re going to want to account for rigorous testing. And we don’t mean just at the end: testing should happen throughout the entire process: before, during, and after each major step. 

If you wait until the very end to test both design and code, you’re more likely to either skip testing or rush through it to get the product out faster. By testing periodically, you can put in less time with each iteration, and ensure you have resources set aside to do so.

Don’t Skimp on Quality Code

Will developing code without documentation or best practices move faster? Maybe at first, but the benefits of writing sub-average code doesn’t outweigh the drawbacks. If you want code that is scalable, easy to pick up, and has less errors, give your developers time to write quality code and inspect the code of their peers. Developers should also be given time to think through architecture, ask questions, and re-factor their work as they go.

Don’t Cut Corners to Save Time and Money

Of course we all want tech as quickly and cost-effectively as we can get it. But it’ll cost you a lot more resources if you have to scrap a product or make major changes due to poor quality later on. If time and money are a concern, think about other ways you can save, like narrowing the feature set. 

Don’t Let Tech Sit

Did you leave the stove on… 6 [years/months] ago? If you build tech and then don’t think about it for a long time, you’ll be coming back to it with a long list of fixes. It’s much better to keep track of fixes and updates as they happen rather than trying to rush through them later. Set time aside, either bi-annually or annually, to review your tech and see what areas you can improve in. 

Don’t Think You’ve Escaped

Possibly the most depressing thought of the article: No matter how much time and effort you put into tech, it will eventually become outdated. While planning can hold it off, it will inevitably turn obsolete. 

So was this article for nothing? No – you can avoid tech debt being an issue by what we said at the very beginning: plan on using tech debt as a key indicator for innovation. Have a game plan for when it’s time to update or jump ship entirely, so you can be prepared for when it happens.

It’s better to be prepared, than be unable to innovate because all your money is tied up in support. 

Conclusion

Cutting corners when developing tech will lead to greater Tech Debt. This will have a bad influence on innovation, maintenance, and scalability, even if it initially saves you time and money.

By starting out with reasonable expectations, giving your developers time to prioritize quality, allocating time for testing, and knowing when to move on, you can reduce the impact of tech debt on your business.

Hopefully you can avoid tech debt (and your neighbor garden) in the future!