Technical debt is like a bad Tetris game.
Imagine you started a business from scratch. It was just you and a laptop in a coffee shop. You wrote all the code for your product, and it worked great. You started to get customers, and your business grew. You hired a few more people, and they all loved your product. Everything was going well.
But then, as your company grew even more, you realized that your code was becoming a bit of a mess. New engineers had a hard time understanding how things worked. Every time you wanted to change, it took longer than it should have. Your customers started complaining about bugs that were taking too long to fix.
This is what we call technical debt.
The One Engineer Dilemma
When a company is just starting out, it’s common for only one engineer to build the product. This can lead to what we call the “one engineer dilemma.”
Because only one person is working on the code, they might not think about how the codebase will need to evolve as the company grows and incorporates more team members.
The engineer might take shortcuts or make assumptions about how things should be done that make sense for a small team but can create problems later on.
The Cost of Neglecting Growth
Technical debt can be expensive in several ways. First, it can make it harder for new team members to get up to speed. If the code isn’t well-documented or there are assumptions baked in that everyone on the team should know, it can take new hires longer to ramp up.
Second, technical debt can slow down development. If the codebase is messy or poorly organized, adding new features or fixing bugs can be harder. This can lead to longer development cycles, missed deadlines, and unhappy customers.
Finally, technical debt can be demoralizing for engineers. No one likes working on messy, convoluted code.
Preventing Technical Debt
Preventing technical debt starts with a mindset shift. Instead of thinking about the codebase in terms of what works for the current team, engineers need to think about how the codebase will evolve as the company grows.
This means writing modular, reusable code that new team members can easily understand and extend. It also means documenting code and making sure there are clear instructions for how to use tools and frameworks.
Another key to preventing technical debt is to prioritize code quality over speed. It can be tempting to take shortcuts to get features out the door quickly, but this can create more work and slow development in the long run.