Tyrannical Shoes and Technical Debt

Tyrannical Shoes and Technical Debt

Ever had one of those days where you just want to get home, kick off your shoes and relax? Of course you have, and it's on those days that your shoes seem to embody the struggle. As if they will take your stress with them when tossed into the corner of whatever room lays on the other side of your front door.

As soon as the door is closed behind you the process begins. You jam the ball of one foot on to the heel of the other, pinning that shoe to the ground as you pull and twist your foot free. The shoe fights back but you persist. Your foot will have it's freedom.

The first shoe looses the battle and is discarded. Now it's time to get started on the other

You apply the same technique but it feels different this time. Your free foot is more dexterous now and finds a position of power almost instantly. You twist and turn your ankle, wriggle your toes and grab the door handle in anticipation of the final pull.

You've done it. The shoes are gone and with them a little bit of stress melts away.

Your shoes, meanwhile, are happy to sit and wait for round two. They know that you won't go outside without them. They know that you'll be back.

Sure enough the next day you return to the corner where your discarded shoes lay. Their laces are still tied up tight. 'I can do this,' you think to yourself as you shove one of your feet into its shoe.

It's a tight fit, but you've been here before. Your toes claw at the insole as your foot worms its way into the shoe. It twists and flops, refusing to be subjugated.

You push harder. 

Before long you're bent over, fully committed to this endevour. You shove your fingers down the back of the heel of the shoe in an effort to create more room. Squat. Twist. Lift heel. Pull. Your whole body is put to work in a frustrated choreography. Until...


It worked. But your victory is short lived. Your foot made it in, but the shoe's not happy about it. It squeezes hard and twists its tongue in an effort to deprive you of comfort. It has become stiff and uncompromising, like a child throwing a tantrum.

With a heavy sigh and a heavier heart you sit down, pull at the laces, loosen the shoe and replace it on your foot. The humiliation is compounded as you retie the laces.

It feels like a different shoe now. Snug. Comfortable even. It has accepted your foot, but would only do so on its terms.

You don't bother to fight with the second shoe, opting  instead to untie and loosen it up before your foot goes anywhere near it.

The shoes won. The day is not off to a great start.

Technical Debt

So what was the point in that story? To me it perfectly illustrates an all too common situation that we all face on a daily basis: Technical debt.

Technical debt is the cost that you incur in the future as a result of trying to save time in the present. The term itself comes from the world of software engineering, but the principle is applicable anywhere.

In our battle of the boot we endured a long stressful day at work and we just wanted to get in the door and get comfortable. Rather than sit down, unlace our shoes and set them aside neatly for the future we kicked them off into the corner and forgot about them. We saved a few seconds, but what was the cost?

Fast forward to the next day and we're putting our shoes back on. Once again we find ourselves wanting to save a bit of time so we trying to shove our feet into our laced up shoes. In theory this will save us time but in practice it doesn't work out like that.

We spend a minute trying to force it before giving up entirely and unlacing both shoes.

If we had just done that in the first place the day before we would have saved ourselves the hassle. We had simply deferred the work.

What's even worse is that technical debt compounds. As it builds, the job of dealing with it becomes larger. If already running on a tight schedule you likely won't have the time to do such work, so it just continues to grow.

Think about technical debt the next time you leave dirty dishes in the sink, don't feel like emptying the washing machine or decide to procrastinate in work. You're creating work for your future self, and you can guarantee that they won't be grateful about it.

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