tech debt maximalism

last updated: Oct 20, 2023

The always-worth-reading apenwarr takes on the tech debt metaphor.

What's the pattern here? Just this: high-interest debt is quick and convenient but you should pay it off quickly. Sometimes you pay it off just by converting to longer-term lower-rate debt. Sometimes debt is collateralized and sometimes it isn't.

Bringing that back to tech debt: a simple kind of high-interest short-term debt would be committing code without tests or documentation. Yay, it works, ship it! And truthfully, maybe you should, because the revenue (and customer feedback) you get from shipping fast can outweigh how much more bug-prone you made the code in the short term.

But like all high-interest debt, you should plan to pay it back fast. Tech debt generally manifests as a slowdown in your development velocity (ie. overhead on everything else you do), which means fewer features launched in the medium-long term, which means less revenue and customer feedback.

... In the tech world, the interest-to-income equivalent is how much time you spend dealing with overhead compared to building new revenue-generating features. Again, getting to zero overhead is probably not worth it.

...(Also note that by this definiton, nowadays tech stacks are so big, complex, and irritable that every project starts with a giant pile of someone else's tech debt on day 1. Enjoy!) many of us know but few businesspeople admit, the value of proprietary software without the people is zero. This is why you hear about acqui-hires (humans create value even if they might quit tomorrow) but never about acqui-codes (code without humans is worthless).

via this toot

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