How to Measure, Manage, and Minimize Technical Debt

Andrew Townsend
Andrew Townsend
August 2, 2023
Celebrate World Wide Web Day

Spend enough time as a software developer, and you learn about the existence and pain of technical debt.

Understanding, managing, and communicating technical debt is crucial. It allows us to build more maintainable software, improve our productivity, and even boost team morale.

We recently hosted a webinar with one of our software development team leads, Kiersten Nelthorpe, and senior software developer Cody Robertson, where they gave valuable insights and strategies to help you deal with technical debt in your work.

Definition of Technical Debt

Technical debt is a concept used in software development and engineering to describe the consequences of choosing a quick and easy solution in the short term, which results in increased maintenance costs and reduced efficiency in the long term.

In other words, technical debt is similar to financial debt, where you borrow money now to solve a problem but pay it back later with interest. In software development, it refers to the trade-off between choosing a less optimal or temporary solution to meet immediate needs or deadlines, knowing that it’ll require additional work and improvements in the future.

Technical debt can accrue for various reasons:

1. Time pressure: Developers may have to deliver a feature quickly, leading them to make shortcuts or compromises in code quality.

2. Lack of expertise: When developers lack experience or knowledge in a particular area, they may produce less efficient or maintainable code.

3. Outdated technology: Using outdated or legacy technology can lead to technical debt, as modernizing the codebase can be more complex and time-consuming.

4. Poor design decisions: If the initial software architecture isn’t well thought out, it can lead to technical debt as the project grows.

What Are the Risks of Technical Debt

There are negative aspects of technical debt. Much like financial debt, if you allow it to build and build without ever paying it down, you'll find yourself swamped with troubles.

For example, with lots of technical debt, you may find that a simple change that would normally take a single day may take five. It can also prevent you from developing anything new because of the knot you're tied up into.

Other consequences of technical debt can include:

Increased maintenance costs: Poorly designed or hastily written code requires more effort to maintain and fix bugs, raising development costs over time.

Increased risk of errors: Technical debt can make code less robust, increasing the likelihood of introducing bugs or security vulnerabilities.

Difficulty in scaling: As the project grows, technical debt can hinder scalability and lead to performance issues.

However, much like financial debt, not all technical debt is necessarily bad. Let's say you're trying to get code out quickly to get early feedback, or you're trying to release a new key feature where timeliness is important. In this case, you could pay down the technical debt in the future.

Minimizing Future Debt

At Smarty, we make very deliberate efforts to decrease the potential for future technical debt. We do this by focusing on a few things.

We aren’t afraid to ditch and rewrite the code before merging to the main or releasing it. It may sound like a waste, but the first time around was the cost of discovery and understanding to build it the right way. You don’t have to have everything designed upfront. This can also give us faster feedback cycles.

After the functionality is working and there are test cases, we take the time to refactor and make the code cleaner and easier to read before releasing.

Use design patterns that facilitate flexibility and make it easy to change things, like the database being used.

To learn more about reducing technical debt or how the Smarty development team does it, feel free to view the full webinar recording.


Subscribe to our blog!
Learn more about RSS feeds here.
rss feed iconSubscribe Now
Read our recent posts
6 Ways Telecom & Internet Companies Leverage Address Data
Arrow Icon
In a recent webinar, we showed how address data tools help managers improve business performance in the following areas:Network PlanningAsset ManagementCustomer Acquisition and RetentionData BlendingMail and Parcel DeliveryFraud Reduction1. Network PlanningAccurate address data plays a critical role in overcoming network planning challenges. We presented solutions at each of the following steps in the network planning process: Clean existing address data with US Address VerificationKeep incoming data clean with US Address AutocompleteMap all addresses using our US Master Address List and hyper-accurate US Rooftop GeocodingAdd context to maps with enriched US Property DataAnalyze, get spatial insights, and make confident business decisions 2.
A Fresh Start: Clean Out Your Computer Day
Arrow Icon
In a world where the lines between digital and physical spaces blur, the health of our computers has a massive impact on our productivity and overall ability to perform well at work.  Clean Out Your Computer Day, observed on the second Monday of February, is the perfect opportunity to ensure that we declutter and optimize our virtual spaces. Just as we regularly clean our homes and offices, this day underscores the importance of maintaining a streamlined, efficient computer setup. The Digital Declutter: Where to StartStarting with the basics, sift through your files and programs.
Smarty's 2023 Address Data Deep Dive: Trends, Challenges, and Breakthroughs
Arrow Icon
We recently hosted a webinar where Brent Francom and Jeffrey Duncan, two of our Product Managers, talked about the lessons we learned and the improvements we've made in 2023. Here are the highlights. When you process so many addresses, you see things. We processed 327 billion+ addresses in 2023, equating to nearly 900 million per day or over 10,000 per second. When you process that many addresses, you find many funny and interesting ones. We keep a "Wall of Shame" with funny and malformed addresses that somehow validate.
Ready to get started?