Simple Tips for Curbing Your Technical Debt

As a developer, you know the frustration of technical debt. The quick fixes, workarounds, and temporary solutions you implemented in the past now slo… As a developer, you know the frustration of technical debt. The quick fixes, workarounds, and temporary solutions you implemented in the past now slow…

As a developer, you know the frustration of technical debt.

The quick fixes, workarounds, and temporary solutions you implemented in the past now slow you down, reduce agility, and make adding new features difficult.

Left unaddressed, technical debt compounds like an insidious tax on your productivity and code quality.

The good news is you can take action to curb technical debt and reclaim control of your projects.

By following a few simple tips, you can stop debt accumulation and start paying down existing liabilities.

With consistent discipline, you may even find technical debt ceases to be a chronic issue, allowing you to build software with speed and confidence once more.

The strategies herein will help any developer, from solo coder to enterprise team, establish better technical spending habits and keep code clean over the long run.

What Is Technical Debt and Why You Should Care

Technical debt refers to the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.

In software development, technical debt is the result of poor quality code that is difficult to maintain and build upon.

Why should you care about technical debt? Here are a few reasons:

  1. It reduces productivity.

    Technical debt makes it harder for developers to add features or fix bugs, slowing them down.

    This impacts your ability to get work done and meet deadlines.

  2. It increases cost.

    The time spent working around messy, convoluted code costs money.

    Significant technical debt can double the cost of a project.

  3. It hurts code quality.

    Quick fixes and workarounds accumulate, making the codebase confusing and disorganized.

    This erosion of quality worsens over time if not addressed.

  4. It leads to defects.

    Complex, hard-to-read code is more prone to bugs and security vulnerabilities.

    Technical debt puts data and systems at risk.

  5. It reduces agility.

    High technical debt means your software is rigid and fragile.

    This loss of flexibility hampers your ability to adapt to change.

The best way to curb technical debt is to prioritize high code quality and “doing it right” over quick fixes.

Allocate time for refactoring, testing, and documentation.

Adopt coding standards and security best practices.

Measure technical debt levels and address problem areas.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to technical debt.

Tackling it now will save you headaches down the road.

Establish Coding Standards and Stick to Them

To curb technical debt in your software projects, establish strict coding standards and ensure all team members adhere to them.

Coding Style Guide

Create a comprehensive style guide that specifies formatting rules for:

  1. Indentation (spaces vs.


  2. Naming conventions (variables, functions, classes, etc.)

  3. Commenting standards

The style guide should be mandatory for all developers to follow.

This minimizes inconsistencies and makes the codebase more readable and maintainable.

Code Reviews

Institute mandatory code reviews for all changes to the codebase.

More experienced developers should review code from junior team members.

Code reviews catch deviations from style standards, detect bugs, and spread knowledge.

Refactoring Legacy Code

If you have inherited legacy code that predates your new standards, schedule time to systematically refactor it.

Refactoring involves restructuring existing code without changing its external behavior.

Focus on one module or section of code at a time.

Tooling and Automation

Use linting tools to automatically check for style guide violations.

Many IDEs and code editors offer built-in linting, or you can use standalone tools.

Fix any issues before committing changes.

Over time, consistently applying coding standards will significantly curb your technical debt.

While an initial investment of effort is required, the long term benefits to maintainability and extensibility of the codebase make it worth the effort.

Keep standards up to date as languages and best practices evolve.

Refactor Code Regularly

Refactoring your code regularly is one of the best ways to curb technical debt and keep your applications clean, maintainable, and up-to-date.

Review and Refactor Legacy Code

Go through older sections of your codebase and look for ways to improve readability and reduce complexity.

Some things to look for include:

  • Long methods that can be broken up into smaller pieces

  • Magic numbers or strings that can be replaced with constants

  • Duplicate logic that can be extracted into reusable methods

  • Complex conditional logic that can be simplified

  • Classes or methods that have too many responsibilities and would benefit from being split apart

Pay off Your Interest

Like financial debt, technical debt accrues “interest” over time in the form of extra effort required to implement new features or fix bugs.

Make it a priority to pay off this interest regularly before it starts accumulating faster than you can handle.

Some ways to pay off interest include:

  • Removing unused code, variables, methods and classes

  • Updating outdated dependencies and libraries

  • Improving test coverage for critical parts of the codebase

  • Refactoring hacks, workarounds or temporary solutions into permanent, well-designed fixes

Refactor New Features As You Build Them

Don’t stop refactoring once you’ve cleaned up your legacy code.

Make it an ongoing practice to refactor code as soon as you write it.

Look for the same issues in your new code that you addressed in the legacy refactor and fix them right away.

This will help ensure that your technical debt does not start accumulating again.

Staying on top of your technical debt through continuous refactoring and “paying off your interest” regularly will keep your code clean, maintainable and easier to build on in the long run.

Make refactoring a habit and prioritize paying off your technical debt.

Your future self will thank you!

Automate Testing

To curb technical debt in your codebase, implement automated testing.

Automated tests help ensure that new changes do not break existing functionality, enabling developers to make changes with more confidence.

Implement Unit Testing

Unit testing involves testing individual units of source code to verify that they function as intended.

For example, test that a specific function returns the expected output for a given input.

Unit tests should cover all major areas of your codebase, including:

  • Business logic

  • Data access layers

  • API endpoints

As you build new features, write unit tests to cover that new functionality.

This helps ensure a high coverage of tests over time.

Build Integration Tests

In addition to unit testing, implement automated integration testing.

Integration tests verify that different modules or services work together as expected.

For example, test that:

  • Your API endpoints integrate properly with your database.

  • New frontend features integrate properly with your API.

Integration testing helps catch issues that arise from the interaction between different parts of your system.

Set up Continuous Integration

With automated tests in place, set up a continuous integration (CI) system to run those tests automatically whenever code is committed.

Many popular options for CI include:

  • Jenkins

  • Travis CI

  • CircleCI

The CI system will run your test suites and alert you to any test failures, so issues can be addressed quickly.

This helps keep technical debt low by catching problems early.

Prioritize Paying Down Technical Debt

To curb technical debt effectively, you must make paying it down a priority in your organization.

Dedicate Resources

Assign developers specifically to work on technical debt for a portion of their time each sprint.

Even allocating 10-20% of resources to pay down technical debt can help make progress over time.

Provide the tools, training, and oversight for developers to methodically work through the technical debt backlog.

Track and Measure

You can't improve what you don't measure.

Track metrics like:

  • Code complexity and duplication.

  • Testing coverage.

  • Time spent fixing bugs.

  • Time spent onboarding new developers.

Set targets for lowering technical debt over time and revisit metrics regularly to ensure progress.

Refactor Mercilessly

Look for opportunities to simplify complex code, reduce duplication, improve test coverage, and make the codebase more modular.

Some examples include:

  • Extracting duplicated logic into reusable functions.

  • Simplifying complex conditional logic.

  • Adding missing tests and improving test coverage.

  • Breaking a large class or function into smaller, single-purpose ones.

Even small, incremental refactors can significantly improve code quality over time.

Review Code Rigorously

Add technical debt prevention into your code review process.

Look not just for bugs or style issues but for complexity, duplication, lack of tests, and other technical debt indicators.

Provide constructive feedback to address technical debt in the code, not just in the current review but for the long term.

Educate developers on technical debt prevention and have them incorporate it into their own self-reviews and development process.

Making technical debt a priority and providing the necessary oversight and guidance is key to gaining control over your codebase's long term health and sustainability.

With continuous tracking and improvement, you can curb technical debt and prevent future debt from accumulating.


As you work to pay down your technical debt, remember that it will take time and consistency.

Don’t become overwhelmed by the scope of changes needed.

Start by picking one area or system to focus on and make incremental improvements.

Celebrate the wins, no matter how small.

Use the momentum from those wins to tackle the next priority.

While preventative measures like code reviews, unit testing, and automation can help avoid future debt, you still need to dedicate time to resolving existing issues.

Make it a habit to spend part of each week reducing your technical debt.

Even dedicating just 30 minutes a few times a week can make a big difference over months and years.

Paying off your technical debt will make you and your team more efficient, innovative, and motivated.

Though the process requires diligence and patience, the rewards of cleaner code, faster releases, improved morale, and higher productivity will make all your efforts worthwhile.

Stay focused on the end goal and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

You've got this! With time and consistency, you can curb your technical debt.

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