Step by step: engineers lose 1 day a week in technical debt

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The average engineer spends 6 hours a week – about a day – processing technical debt, according to the 2021 State of Technical Debt Report by Step size, a developer of software development tools. The average time spent on overall maintenance work and legacy systems is 33%, of which over 50% of the time is spent solely on technical debt. This is the time when the engineer is not working towards his key goals.

Above: Just under two-thirds – 61% – of engineers said backends tend to have the most technical debt in the codebase.

Image Credit: Stepsize

Technical debt causes bugs and crashes, and slows the pace of development, 60% of engineers said in the Stepsize report. This translates into lost productivity as engineers spend more time dealing with technical debt issues and not development issues.

Technical debt is also bad for team morale, according to 52% of engineers in the Stepsize report.

Most of the technical debt resides in the backend, especially in web server endpoints, the engineers said. Other parts of the code base that accumulate a large amount of technical debt are business applications, websites, and general infrastructure.

When engineers find themselves confronted with older technology due to unresolved issues technical debt, which impacts the customer experience. Developers often feel like they have to choose between new features and vital maintenance that could improve their experience, and it costs a lot. In some cases, technical debt can make it more difficult to implement new features, forcing awkward workarounds or limited functionality.

Part of the problem is that many companies don’t have processes in place to manage technical debt. In the survey, 58% of engineers said their company did not have such a process, and 66% said they believed their team would ship up to 100% faster if they did. To underscore how engineers thought a process would be important, 15% said they thought they would be 200% more productive, Stepsize found. Only 2% of engineers believed that having technical debt under control would make no difference to their team’s velocity.

The data suggests that one way to increase productivity is to pay off technical debt in the application backend and in areas of the general codebase infrastructure.

The survey included more than 200 members of the engineering team, including developers, engineering managers, and CTOs spanning companies, midsize companies, and startups around the world.

Read the whole Statement of technical debt 2021 by Stepsize.

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