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What Is Technical Debt?

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What Is Technical Debt?
Author: DuploCloud | Thursday, October 12 2023
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Tech debt is a natural — and often necessary — part of software development, but it must be repaid

Software development is a constant battle between having enough time to write quality code and delivering code as rapidly as possible. Naturally, developers must make compromises and constantly weigh the tradeoffs of their coding decisions to meet project deadlines. 

These compromises result in technical debt — a natural part of any development project. However, what technical debt is and how to mitigate it isn’t always immediately apparent. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is technical debt?” our guide will explain everything you need to know.

Jump to a section…

What Is Technical Debt?

How to Mitigate Technical Debt

Reducing Infrastructural Technical Debt

Minimize Technical Debt With DuploCloud

What Is Technical Debt?

Technical debt is a conceptual framework in software development that describes how certain decisions made in the moment to prioritize quick fixes can cause negative consequences in the future if they are not addressed.

Coined by Agile Manifesto co-author Ward Cunningham, the term technical debt is analogous to the concept of monetary debt. Much like how credit card debt generates interest that must be paid off before it snowballs out of control, coding decisions, bugs, and other issues can exponentially increase the amount of work necessary to complete tasks if they are not addressed.

For example, when coding work is completed, refactoring and other changes must be made throughout the code base to ensure the entire product works securely and efficiently. Sometimes, changes must be made quickly to meet strict deadlines, which can leave this refactoring work by the wayside. As long as this additional work remains unfinished, it is considered a “debt” that must be repaid. The longer the debt goes unpaid, the more issues it could cause as teams continue completing work and adding features. 

There are numerous causes of technical debt, some of which result from human error while others naturally accrue over the life of a project. The following are just a few examples:

  • Rushed development: As deadlines loom, teams may implement a quick solution that’s “good enough.” This may not be a problem on a case-by-case basis, but unless they are addressed, decisions that value speed over quality add up.
  • New solutions surface old problems: The longer teams work on a project, the better they get at solving problems. And the more they discover ways to enhance a project, the more they may realize that old solutions are no longer viable.
  • Lack of collaboration: If teams aren’t communicating, the project will suffer, whether through inadequate documentation, simultaneously working on the same code base, or a lack of mentorship for junior developers.
  • Poor/no testing protocols: Without quality assurance processes in place, the opportunity for introducing bugs into production rises exponentially. And without using a test suite to ensure a baseline of quality, the likelihood of implementing hacky “band-aid” fixes increases, further raising the amount of technical debt the project accrues.

Learn more about the fundamentals of technical debt and how automation can reduce it by reading “How to Reduce Technical Debt: The Role of DevOps Automation.”

How to Mitigate Technical Debt

Once you understand why it’s crucial to eliminate technical debt from your code base, it’s time to identify areas where you can remediate these issues before debt grows out of hand. Making the following strategies a core part of developer workflows will improve the overall quality of your product while preventing potential problems from occurring months — or even years — down the line.

  • Tackle high-priority technical debt first: Technical debt can accumulate throughout a project, and prioritizing which aspects to fix is crucial when determining where to spend developer time and resources. While priorities will differ from team to team, developers should examine two common categories when remediating debt: the code’s age and how it affects the end user. Older code can present problems as developers add new features and tends to become more difficult to address over time. Meanwhile, code that introduces significant bugs or pain points for end users should be prioritized to provide a more positive user experience. 
  • Maintain precise code standards: Cutting corners can help a project get done more quickly but can introduce unforeseen problems if code quality isn’t up to snuff. Setting code quality standards up front and measuring delivered code against these standards at check-in may take additional time, but it ensures technical debt isn’t accidentally introduced into the product.
  • Automate routine tasks: Manually completing tasks that could be easily automated isn’t just unnecessarily time-consuming and difficult to scale. Every hand-completed task can also introduce errors into your code base, creating technical debt that must be remediated. Instead, these tasks — like testing, building, pushing to continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD) pipelines, adhering to security and compliance standards, and more — should be automated as much as possible. DuploCloud is one tool that empowers developers to automate DevOps processes like infrastructure generation through a low-code/no-code platform. Learn more about how DuploCloud’s powerful automation suite can speed up deployment times by a factor of ten.
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Discover other crucial remediation strategies in our guide, “5 Technical Debt Remediation Strategies for DevOps Leaders.”

Reducing Infrastructural Technical Debt

Technical debt doesn’t just crop up in your product code base — it can also exist in the infrastructure that helps your developers do the work that makes it run. This infrastructural debt can increase deployment times, reduce developer productivity, and even introduce errors and other debt into the code base.

Before your team begins addressing infrastructural issues, you must assess where these problems lie. This is conducted through several coordinated tasks that examine every aspect of your infrastructure, including:

  • Regular code reviews to ensure developers are adhering to best practices.
  • Analyzing performance metrics to reduce bottlenecks and address usage spikes.
  • Implementing automated tools that monitor for potential vulnerabilities or discover areas of improvement.

Once you have identified where the debt is located, you can then begin remediating it. But remediation isn’t enough — leaders must examine internal processes to discover where inefficiencies and other problems exist. Then, they must develop and enforce best practices to ensure infrastructure remains solid throughout the project's life.

Find other ways to reduce infrastructural technical debt by reading “Tackling Infrastructure Technical Debt Head-On: Five Strategies for DevOps Leaders.”

Minimize Technical Debt With DuploCloud

Automation is one of the most essential methods for mitigating technical debt. That’s why DuploCloud is such a powerful tool for cloud-native developers. It automates large portions of cloud infrastructure configuration and provisioning, orchestration, adherence to compliance standards, and monitoring/logging/alerting to provide developer self-service with established guardrails. That way, teams can minimize the introduction of human error, reduce costs, and go to market even faster. Want to learn more about how DuploCloud can accelerate deployment by 10x while minimizing technical debt? Contact us today.

Author: DuploCloud | Thursday, October 12 2023
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