The Technical Debt Prevention Clinic

Track: NET342

Presenter: Richard Banks

Richard works for Readify, who for those that don’t know, is a software consultancy that helps software development teams to solve problems. The problems might be understanding or adopting a particular technology or they might simply be a specific coding issue. My personal experience at a previous employer was very positive. I find their consultants quite intriguing to work with. In general, they epitomise a technology evangelist, which I find a little uncomfortable but exactly what’s needed when trying to make a company do things a specific way. Richard is no different.

The most important message from the talk is that Technical Debt isn’t inherently bad. It’s a means to an end. We incur technical debt to enable us to deliver timely solutions (potentially just partial solutions) and gain a better understanding of a problem space. It’s not an excuse to be sloppy, it’s not infinite. Take it out but pay it back. This thinking leads into a Hansleminutes podcast on the subject of technical wealth. The idea being that you as a developer at a moment in time are the creator of artefacts that can help or hinder your successors…try to be helpful. You don’t have to just leave behind the code, you can leave hints and tips, things you know, things you had to work out, things that confused you, gotchas. All these help you if you need to revisit the code and they can help someone get context if they have to read your code.

Richard also offers a number of suggestions to help reduce technical debt, a bunch of which we do use and some which we intend to use. The primary message is being professional, don’t let your business stakeholders convince you to cut corners, it’s almost never a good idea. Use feature flags for immature poorly understood features. Use test coverage as a metric but watch the trend, not the number. The idea of breaking the build if the coverage goes down. Only work on one item until it’s done and stick to a solid definition of Done. I think we’re in a pretty good space to keep a handle on our technical debt but we just need to remain vigilant and creating some technical wealth will be high on my list of priorities.

Further listening/reading

Ward Cunningham: What is Technical Debt

Andrea Goulet: Creating Technical Wealth

Henrik Kniberg: The solution to Technical Debt



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