How tech’s top companies deal with technical debt

By Adam Curtis

TL;DR – Technical debt is inescapable, but there are things you can do to lessen its effects.

No matter how advanced or bleeding-edge your development organization is, at some point it will run into the haunting specter of technical debt. [shudder]

At that point, what are you to do? Or, before it happens, what can you do to try to make remediation as easy, low-cost and quick as possible?

This was the topic that some of tech’s top companies discussed in the SXSW panel “Codeasaurus: Keeping an Edge With Old Tech.” You can see details of that conversation below, along with panelist information.

Key takeaways from the panel

  • Technical debt is cost of doing business when you continue to iterate.
  • It becomes a problem when it puts up blockers for moving forward.
  • Technical debt is largely invisible to the end user.
  • You can’t plan your way out of technical debt.
  • Just because its old code doesn’t mean it’s bad code.
  • Technical debt goes beyond code. There’s testing technical debt and there’s knowledge technical debt.
  • If you don’t have technical debt, you probably don’t have a functional product.
  • You can overcome knowledge gap when people leave with communication, education, documentation and testing.
  • When you need to move with speed, the first thing to go is documentation. The second thing is testing.
  • Every jump in the size of the code base and the size of the company mandates process change.
  • All the investments in paying down tech debt is keeping disaster from happening.
  • Engineers don’t want to work for companies that have massive technical debt.

Panel members

  • Tim Correa: SVP and GM Trulia
  • Jason Fennell: SVP Engineering Yelp
  • Samantha Stoller: Sr. Staff Engineer Slack
  • Moderator Ron Miller: Reporter TechCrunch