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What Companies Can Do to Reduce Technical Debt

Dev Processes
Convincing
Tech Debt

8 March, 2022

Tejas Kokje
Tejas Kokje

Senior Software Engineer at Netflix, Inc

Tejas Kokje, Senior Software Engineer at Netflix, Inc., highlights how long-term thinking, planning, and organizing can reduce technical debt in a product organization.

Assessing Technical Debt Based on Dynamic Runtime

How to reduce technical debt?

In one of the previous companies I worked at, the challenge was: should we address the problems we have right now or add more features? This question gets asked quite often by different tech experts. As we kept adding features, we were not concerned about the technical debt we were taking on. Eventually, we knew that we could sustain that for a year or two, but afterward, it would become increasingly difficult to scale with the customer needs. A good metaphor around that would be owning a car with all the fancy features that won’t work more than a speed of 30 miles per hour.

How Planning and Organizing Can Reduce Technical Debt

To begin with my actions towards solving the problem, within the first six months, I started convincing the upper management and leadership to look at this. Per my prior experience and lessons, I knew what was coming and how much resources and headcount we needed to solve the technical debt.

The good part is that the upper management believed in me, and per the new releases, they had to slow down and focus more on improving the quality of the product. As revenue remains one of the main goals for most startups, in this case, we did not mainly focus on that. Instead, we had a fine balance between the technical debt and new features.

We slowed down on adding the new features, but at the same time, we collaborated with product management to figure out the priority of the features. Besides, we scrutinized how much revenue each of those features would bring in. We shortlisted some of the features that would bring in the most value and revenue based on the data-driven information.

Being a smaller company, if your product is not stable or robust, it may impact the first impression on the customers. After convincing them to put some headcount to improve the product, finally, after two years, we were at a place where everything was rock solid. Plus, we had a good balance of adding new features while fixing the existing ones; perhaps not the same velocity as before, but feasible.

Convince Your Seniors

  • In real life, we’d always prefer having lesser financial debt, and so in the tech world, having less technical debt would be a savior. Although some debt, like student debt, would help you grow. A similar concept applies to the product world — take the technical debt that’d allow you to increase feature velocity, but avoid shortcuts.
  • The higher leadership is usually disconnected from what’s happening in reality, so you need to communicate and convince them at all times. Ensure that they are aware of the complexities that the engineers are dealing with regularly. Especially, avoid using technical jargon; explain to them in a language that they understand and what it would take for the product to succeed.

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