Technical debt is an unavoidable reality for software development teams. In a previous edition of The Daily Bundle, we delved into the topic and examined its pervasiveness, as well as potential resolution methods. Our previous discussions on technical debt were primarily focused on reducing the burden it places on teams.
Effective management of technical debt demands coordinated efforts by a team and a clearly defined strategy. However, one aspect of this area still remained unexplored: can developers do something to alleviate technical debt? The answer to this question is a resounding yes.
Understanding Technical Debt
Before delving into the ways in which software engineers can aid in managing technical debt, it is crucial to first grasp the concept itself. It refers to the practice of a development team evaluating various development routes in order to meet immediate requirements and achieve the intended outcome, which is often referred to as “technical debt”; however, it is more aptly described as a “compromise” within the programming world.
To optimize the performance of a function, an engineer may decide to code it in a certain way, which may cause limitations for its scalability in the future.
There exist three main reasons for the accumulation of technical debt:
- Application (the software program)
- Infrastructure (operating systems and environments)
- Architecture (hardware)
Development teams may choose to embrace technical debt for various reasons. In certain cases, coders may relinquish coding best practices to meet project deadlines due to time limitations – delaying the job may lead to higher expenses or being left behind in the competition.
While the ultimate goal is to keep technical debt at a minimum, it is not entirely feasible. As with any engineering decision, software developers are required to make certain compromises when creating functions, applications, or projects.
Drawing a comparison between technical debt and financial debt is straightforward – both entail borrowing something valuable, knowing that it must be repaid. In the context of a software developer, good code is what is borrowed. Technical debt, like financial debt, also attracts interest over time, necessitating additional work to rectify the code in the future.
Having covered technical debt and its significance, let us now explore the three primary steps that any developer on a team can adopt to help curtail it.
Increasing Awareness of the Debt
Some development teams have an unfortunate habit of disregarding code-related issues. This is harmful to the project since the problems persist, resulting in increased expenses due to additional interest payments.
Efficient development progress must be ensured. If one module fails to function as intended due to lacklustre implementation, the rest of the team is likely required to compensate for it and devise workarounds or fixes. The responsibility of deciding how to manage any incurred debt falls on the Project Manager . However, the Project Manager may not always be aware of any issues.
Spotting code issues and making engineers aware of any troubles they may face is critical. Project Managers may occasionally miss faulty code due to engineers not being transparent or the team acclimatising to finding alternate solutions. Therefore, engineers encountering difficulties must communicate such information.
Regular attention directed towards technical debt alleviates the possibility of overlooking the debt. Highlighting the debt to the Project Manager grants them adequete time to take relevant action before the interest inflates too much.
Refactoring Existing Code While Introducing New Functionality
Despite a developer possibly perceiving code refactoring during implementation of a new feature as a poor course of action, it is worthwhile to consider as it can enhance the stability of the application and circumvent any potential issues.
A team working on a new web application may need to allocate time towards tackling specific issues as they present themselves. With the development progress, further, new problems might emerge alongside existing ones. At some point, work on feature development may require being halted to permit proper reworking of the code to guarantee proper functionality. This often leads to delays, as well as extra expenses.
The best time for engineers to address bugs is early on before they become unmanageable. While a significant refactoring may cause more downtime than several smaller ones, the opposite may also be the case. It is therefore important to consider all options before deciding on the optimal course of action.
Engineering experts often need to decide whether a minor refactor is the most suitable option. Unfortunately, there isn’t a definite formula to determine this judgment. All developers, regardless of their skills and experience level, should assess this option and consult their Project Managers if they are uncertain. Skilled engineers might choose to postpone a project to evade a large amount of technical debt.
Enhancing Your Coding Quality
It’s evident that technical debt is inescapable. Nonetheless, engineers must abstain from taking shortcuts when adhering to good programming practices since it can significantly reduce the impact of technical debt.
Inefficient coding techniques can inevitably result in high system debt and the possibility of interconnected bugs that are challenging to detect and rectify. Therefore, developers should verify that the code is robust and not excessively dependent on a single input, with tests conducted in edge cases before release.
It’s obvious that high-quality coding standards are critical for delivering outstanding software. Thus it’s pertinent to emphasise continuously seeking improved code quality. Good coding techniques constitute the backbone of any successful software project and should always be the objective of a development team.
Every Engineer Contributes to a Greater Whole
It’s crucial to acknowledge that though these three steps may seem of minimal importance at the beginning, once embraced by the engineers on your team, technical debt becomes more manageable. However, implementing these steps shouldn’t supersede a well-rounded strategy for diminishing technical debt.
These steps are designed to support, rather than substitute, the pre-existing long-term strategy. Despite not entirely eradicating the technical debt that is accrued by the development team during their projects, it should make the process significantly more manageable. Eventually, this ought to produce an improved level of productivity from the team, enabling them to meet deadlines more effortlessly and create applications with superior reliability and performance.