How Does Technical Debt Threaten Startups and New Entrepreneurs Today?

technical debt

Technical debt belongs to the niche of software development. Many start-ups and new enterprises choose an easier but costlier solution to meet their targets during the early days of their operations.

Many well-known companies we know about have been a victim of technical debt or design in the near past. It refers to the cost of reworking the code and infrastructure as a result of choosing the easy option over a better approach.

The stories of the legends that survived

When Twitter started, the developers relied on Ruby on Rails for the initial days of operations. As the social networking site started gaining momentum, their costs of operation and maintenance on Ruby on Rails became too steep to meet.

They soon switched to Java, and that made the site-based searched at least three times faster. It also cut down their costs exponentially and finally led to the fame and fortune we see today.

Although technical debt has been a more of an abstract concept till date, it has serious financial implications. It can eat their way into the productivity and morale of the company employees.

It can add to the cost of development, hiring new developers and executing further actions on a new platform. Very recently, Instagram faced a similar ordeal.

In October 2010, the now leading image networking application launched the iPhone (iOSx) version of their app. Initially, the started running their operation on a single server in LA.

However, once it became too heavy, they shifted to an EC2 hosted DB. The cost was massive, and it almost crashes the profit curve of the corporation. Mike Krieger, the co-founder compared this move to an open-heart surgery!

How to avoid technical debt?

It is not always possible to spring back from technical debt as Twitter or Instagram did. They made it possible by training their staff and working night and day!

They had the financial backup and the tech know-how to pull the transitions off. Not all start-ups have that privilege. That is how you can nudge your operations towards higher profit within a short span of time:

Run regular checks

When developers take longer than usual to finish specific projects or when product performance suddenly takes a nosedive, your company can accelerate towards design debt.

If you do not have a working idea of technical debt, you can always ask your engineers about the symptoms.

Most engineers feel the scorch when company plummets into code debt. They will be more than happy to intimate you about your technological status.

Clear small installments periodically

Just like “Real” debt, you should pay off your technological debt within short intervals. We prefer low weekly payments over large monthly payments since they are much easier to pay and easier to manage.

Your engineers should clear out the backlogs, clean up the data and code out older portions. Prioritize your code bulk and tackle the code sections that hamper product functionality first.

You might need a cleanup team

Always involve the decision makers in your company while taking care of the technical debt. It can help you hire a specialized cleanup team as Twitter did in their dark days.

That is true for (small or big) fast-moving tech companies. You will surely need someone to clean up after you including featuring regular code updates and data migration to the new system.

Take care of your finances

As we have said before, hiring new employees and expanding to a new system costs money. It is money on top of the capital you have already invested in your latest project deployment and product design.

The frequent need for cash during the switch can land you in a tight spot. You will need to sit down, consider all the financial debts you already have an estimate the total amount payable.

Here, the smart thing to do is approach a debt consolidation and management company for added funding to cover existing loans and provide funds for new projects.

Think about scalable growth

Most companies including Instagram have landed in trouble because they could not predict their growth. Specific platforms and servers are incapable of fast growth due to their lack of flexibility.

A platform should never become the limiting factor when it comes to the growth of a company. While you can take help of predictive analysis to check where you are headed in the next 3 to 6 months, you can always opt for a server platform that supports quick, seamless expansion without an enormous increase in pricing.

Why does technical debt seem difficult to manage?

The difficulty stems from the heterogeneous nature of it. There are four types of technical debt you need to be aware of.

  1. The No Test Debt: any class of code that developers have not tested should be challenging to change. If there is no test, any change becomes very hard to document.
  2. The Terrible Design Debt: poorly structured code. A suitable code structure usually contains a few defining parameters – highly modular codes that are both highly cohesive but loosely coupled, modules with the intention revealing names and non-iterative codes that keep the structure clean and light.
  3. The No Documentation Debt: these are very common and very deadly for the system. Developers need to be able to find and understand code that needs change. Documentation needs to include details that will merely add meaning to any code.
  4. The Bad Readability Debt: the code needs to be legible and comprehensible, irrespective of its continually growing size. Always remember, your application or website core code will be around for the next 5, 10 or 20 years. It will include a lot of addition, editing, and deletion. Unless the initial structure is readable, it will be difficult for anyone to improve on it.

Design debt is like years of junk food and soda catching up on you in your middle age. You made such food choices because they were readily available and they were cheap, but years of system abuse finally threatens your system, and you need to face a more significant expense to unclog the plumbing.

Technical debt and monetary debt are very much about each other. Code debt always leads to massive market loans and poor company performance. Always remember to start with one and the other will start taking care of itself.