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Tech Debt & The Cost of Commitment
Future-proofing our time and energy with principles from software engineering.
Hey there, Happy Sunday.
If you’re in the Northeast, I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine.
This week we’re taking a closer look at managing our commitments and taking shortcuts through the lens of software engineering.
I hope the ideas and prompts below serve as fertile ground for reflection and as always, thanks for reading!
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Tech Debt & The Cost of Commitment
The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love.
After working closely with software engineers over the last year, I’ve come to learn they have a unique way of thinking about their work. They think about their time very carefully and make decisions with regard to two things we would all benefit from thinking more about: tech debt and maintenance costs.
Tech debt refers to shortcuts or quick solutions that build up in a software product over time. These shortcuts let engineers ship the product faster, but as the product evolves, they require more work to fix retroactively than it would have required to build correctly the first time.
Similarly, software engineers are careful about what they build because they’re the ones responsible for the maintenance. Shipping a cool new feature isn’t just about the time it takes to build it, but also the effort required to maintain and update the feature as the product continues to grow and evolve for years to come.
As products and systems expand over time, tech debt and maintenance obligations grow until engineers are focused on putting out fires and keeping the lights on instead of moving the product forward.
The linear world of zeroes and ones doesn’t seem comparable to the complexity of crafting a fulfilling life, but designing our lives is surprisingly similar to building software.
Taking shortcuts on the food we eat, the sleep we’re getting, the work we’re doing, or our relationships creates the real-life version of tech debt.
Eventually, the quick fixes catch up to us. We get sick or get into a big fight with our spouse and we’re forced to go back and fix the root of a problem that we should have addressed correctly from the start. We can ignore the debts we create in our own lives, but it has the same effect on our lives as it does with software: our performance will slowly degrade until we crash.
Similarly, if we’re not intentional about the pursuits and habits we choose to build into our lives, we’ll become overwhelmed with the responsibilities required to maintain them.
Every new friend, hobby, or project adds to the richness of our lives, but it comes at a cost. Marriage, kids, hobbies, passions, and friends are all lifelong pursuits that require an immense amount of work to support. There’s a constant temptation to add more and more to our lives to continue improving but the upkeep ends up overwhelming us.
Crafting our lives requires careful thought and we’re rewarded for measuring twice and cutting once.
Limiting new commitments today means we’ll always have the time and energy needed to invest in our existing pursuits and avoiding shortcuts now eliminates the possibility of everything grinding to a halt in the future.
Software engineers are precise and thoughtful for a reason. We should be too.
Where are you taking shortcuts today that you know will create more work for you in the future?
What new commitments or pursuits have you added to your plate recently? Do you have the time/energy to give them the attention they deserve?
How can you create a habit of considering the bigger picture when choosing how to spend your time?
Do Your Commitments Match Your Convictions? - Harvard Business Review
An interesting and tactical guide to managing personal and professional commitments to work for you instead of against you.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.