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Technical debt is something that every technical team in the software business knows about. That’s because every time a software team works on a project, it builds up technical debt.
Some important questions about technical debt are answered in this article. It talks about what technical debt is, what causes it, why it’s important to deal with it, and how it builds up. It also asks if technical debt is always a bad thing, looks into how to measure it, and shows how to deal with it using DevOps.
When a technical team uses a less-than-ideal solution to a problem, they are making a choice between paying for the best solution now or paying for it later. This team is putting itself in technical “debt” by doing this.
The team incurs more technical debt as the project grows in size. And, like financial debt, technical debt accrues “interest.” As the project grows, it gets harder and costs more to solve problems because people forget things and have to make bigger changes to handle the debt. Almost always, it costs less to pay off debt early.
Even though an experienced technical team can find many technical debts, some still get by them. The ones that can’t be found often cost more to fix than the ones that can be found.
Having a DevOps process can slow the buildup of technical debt by finding problems early, keeping an eye on quality, and getting organizational support for fixing technical deficits.
It is essential to examine the causes of technical debt to see how a DevOps process can help. There are two primary sources of technical debt:
Some debt may also come from insufficient support from the business to address technical debt itself.
Simply put, it costs a lot to fix technical debt if it is left alone. And the cost comes in different ways, such as:
Imagine that a team of developers is working on a product without DevOps. This will show how technical debt grows. They might not have had time to implement DevOps, or they might not have had the money. It’s possible that they didn’t think it would make a big enough difference.
When they add new code, a developer on the team tests it on their computer and then sends it to the QA environment. It’s a simple process, but it’s easy to mess up. Someone could deploy old code or the right code to the wrong server, or someone else could push code that hasn’t been committed. When teams don’t have DevOps procedures, the “interest” is the time it takes to figure out what’s wrong.
Sometimes the problem isn’t too bad, and the rest of the organization doesn’t even know about it. Sometimes, these kinds of mistakes can bring the whole environment down, which hurts everyone. At the very least, someone wasted time re-running their test, which cost the company money by making development take longer.
Technical debt has real dollar amounts attached to it, and businesses need to understand how it builds up. Then they will be able to help the technical teams that need to deal with the debt.
Most of the time, technical debt builds up because of time pressure. When attempting to meet a deadline, it is all too easy to decide to fix minor bugs last. For many teams, this group of bugs is the “bug graveyard” that will never be fixed.
At the same time, it can be tempting to use quick and easy fixes to solve bigger problems. The plan is to go back and fix them properly in the future (you can see how many “TODOs” there are in the code). Realistically, they will stay on the “to-do” list for a long time because a team that is already short on time is not likely to find more time in the future. And as time goes on, developers forget what the problems are about and are less likely to fix them.
Some of the technical choices that were made in the past may not be right for the software anymore. But, in order to save time, development teams often look for quick fixes that speed up delivery instead of taking the time to refactor. Over time, they find that the cost of maintaining these ad-hoc solutions is much higher than the cost of paying back the debt. Then they might decide to change the way the code works. In the worst cases, this could mean that the whole product needs to be rewritten.
Teams can sometimes build up technical debt without realizing it because they don’t know how to write better code or don’t have the skills to do so. As a result, it gets harder to keep up with the code as the codebase grows.
No matter who is on the team or who works for the company, technical debt is always going to be there. It is important to keep track of debt and pay it back regularly. This can be done with the help of DevOps.
Technical debt can be expensive, but you don’t have to pay it all back right away. Taking on a healthy amount of technical debt can be like a business taking on financial debt to help it grow. Don’t let trying to be perfect get in the way of doing good.
If the cost of fixing a problem in the future is less than the value of taking on debt, it makes sense to take on that debt. But if technical debt isn’t taken care of, it can get out of hand and weaken the codebase. So, it is very important to deal with debt.
Measuring technical debt can be complex, and there are many variables to consider. The team’s composition changes, technology changes, and even requirements change. Minimize the effect of these variables using a ratio.
Technical debt ratio (TDR) is the ratio of the cost to fix the codebase compared to building it. Organizations can measure the price in either time or monetary value. Using a ratio can be helpful when getting support from the business. That support may be relaxing the timeline, increasing the budget, reducing the number of “must-have” features, or providing training and tools for the teams.
You can use the TDR to show executives and stakeholders that paying back a particular technical debt has more value than letting it grow. It can be an organizational goal to keep the TDR below a threshold.
Manual estimates can be inconsistent and subjective, so they are less trustworthy from a business perspective. Using code scanners like SonarQube and Kiuwan can eliminate that concern. For example, SonarQube scans the entire codebase and objectively estimates how long it would take to address any issue it finds.
It is beneficial to combine tools like these with DevOps.
Although DevOps cannot solve all issues around technical debt, it can slow the accumulation of that debt by early detection, which reduces the number of bugs and improves communication.
By incorporating tools such as SonarQube and Kiuwan in your CI/CD pipeline, you can continuously calculate technical debt and communicate about it to the business. DevOps can serve as a communication tool between the technical team and the company. It can also be used as an educational tool to inform developers about the kind of code that can introduce bugs in the future. This knowledge should raise code quality and reduce the number of bugs.
The lack of DevOps standards is a technical debt that companies must pay. With well-defined DevOps standards, it is possible to create quality gates on each code check-in, run tests, then deploy. This approach saves developers from repetitive and error-prone manual operations and optimizes development efforts. Indirectly, this saves the company money by keeping morale high and maintaining a high level of productivity.
Finally, DevOps also enables continuous delivery. With continuous delivery, features are pushed as they are developed. Continuous delivery minimizes the barrier to refactoring, by making it easier to catch issues quickly when there are more frequent releases.
Technical debt is incurred by software teams that implement a suboptimal solution in the interest of saving time. This debt accrues interest, or adverse consequences until the team pays it off by implementing an optimized, sustainable solution. It is not always necessary to repay technical debt right away. However, it is vital to manage technical debt and make sure it stays below a maintainable threshold.
DevOps can play an essential role in managing technical debt by incorporating tools such as SonarQube and Kiuwan. These tools detect suboptimal code early, reducing the number of bugs and communicating up-to-date results to everyone involved.
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