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Nancy Powaga
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 |  July 15, 2020

reducing-tech-debtNearly 80% of Americans currently carry debt. Whether purchasing a home, paying for school, or simply managing the costs of day-to-day living, loans allow people to get something now in exchange for repaying the sum later, with interest.

Technical debt, a software development concept coined by Ward Cunningham in 1992, plays on the concept of monetary debt to describe a common trade-off faced by software development teams across the globe: the trade-off of time. Just like one might take out a loan to enter a booming real estate market before being priced out, technical debt is sometimes used as a tool to get ahead when constraints on time outweigh the need for thorough code quality and review.

“With borrowed money, you can do something sooner than you might otherwise,” explained Cunningham, “but until you pay back that money, you’ll be paying interest.”

Applied to software development, technical debt is incurred to speed time to launch, and “interest payments” most often surface in the form of developer time — and sometimes their subsequent frustration. Shortcuts in development made to quicken a launch can result in insufficient definitions and lack of process, documentation, and testing, as well as delayed refactoring, poor integration, and spec changes.

“I thought borrowing money was a good idea, I thought that rushing software out the door to get some experience with it was a good idea,” said Cunningham, “but, of course, you eventually… repay that loan by refactoring the program to reflect your experience as you acquired it.”

Like financial debt, technical debt is difficult to fully remediate once incurred, and must be thoughtfully planned for and sustainably addressed to avoid further loss of time, budget, and team morale.

Revisiting code to “pay off” technical debt can take days, weeks, or even months of developer time, and the debt can continue to grow if not properly addressed. For example, debt in the form of parallel development can result in weeks of lost hours and reams of useless code.

While time and budget are often the most visible indicators of technical debt, employee morale is a more subtle, yet costly consequence, and can affect technical and non-technical employees alike. Technical debt can cause teams to struggle with aligning on business priorities, distributing knowledge across teams, and assigning ownership. If not properly managed, the frustrations caused by technical debt can lead to employee disengagement, dissatisfaction, and eventual turn-over.

Furthermore, technical debt can inhibit a company’s ability to plan for the future. Due to the fluid and interconnected nature of software development, fixes meant to take hours can end up taking weeks or months, and developers engaged on forward-looking projects may need to spend their time paying off debt incurred by a previous release. When technical debt spirals in this way, companies become bogged down in the present (and the past), which prevents them from planning for the future. Instead, these companies spend time, money, and employee energy reprogramming buggy code.

To reduce the steady attrition of resources incurred by technical debt, companies are turning to a number of solutions, including no-code development platforms. No-code development platforms like AppSheet help to reduce fresh technical debt and mitigate existing debts by equipping every employee with the technology they need to achieve their development goals without sacrificing future time or resources. With a no-code platform, companies:

Reduce reliance on legacy code: Legacy code manages to create huge technical debt within organizations, as it must be reworked and integrated into any new app or emerging piece of software. No-code development platforms like AppSheet help to eliminate reliance on legacy code (and the integration issues that come with it) through modern, easy-to-use development tools that not only speed the process of app creation nearly ten fold, but also place the power to create in the hands of every employee – not just those with advanced coding knowledge.

Remove trivial items from IT’s plate: IT teams have enough to do already. No-code development platforms empower non-technical employees to solve uncomplicated tasks on their own so that IT can focus on reviewing and eliminating debt for more complicated or legacy code that requires the finesse of expert developers. No-code platforms allow IT to remove themselves from quality assurance and testing so they can focus on reworking fundamental legacy code. 

Invest in every employee: No-code development platforms allow companies to build a league of citizen developers — employees who are non-technical but still able to create business apps, given the right tools. While the average salary for software developers is quite high, no-code platforms more affordably provide the power of development to all employees regardless of technical skill to ensure that teams can do more with less as time goes on.

Enable app evolution: Apps, particularly those that rely on legacy code, tend to become rigid and outdated over time. No-code development platforms are easily customizable so that apps can fluidly evolve with use. As app use grows and changes, app creators can update their apps quickly — and without technical debt.

Technical debt is as common as monetary debt, and is a trade-off that many teams and companies take to quicken time to launch. But by embracing no-code development platforms, companies can reduce their reliance on legacy code and empower every employee to build future-proofed apps that evolve with use — no trade-offs (or debt) required. 

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Nancy Powaga

Nancy helps app creators build and learn with AppSheet.

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[No-Code Development, IT]