If you have (tech) debt, inflation is good

I rent my apartment. I moved here in 2018, and over the last 5 years (because of many factors, but mostly inflation), my rent has gone up about 30%. Inflation over that time is about 22%, so it’s even gone up in constant dollars.

If you had a fixed-rate mortgage, your payments would have gone up 0%. When you have a mortgage, inflation makes housing costs relatively smaller in your total budget because everything else goes up. If your interest rate is lower than inflation, then you get to pay the debt back in lower-value dollars.

The same is true for tech debt where inflation is the increasing size of the codebase and the team. Writing more code shrinks the relative cost of the debt you have. Having more team members makes paying tech debt a smaller proportion of your work.

If you had a metric of tech-debt, new good code would tend to lower it. This is true as long as interest on the tech debt is not too high. For tech debt, interest payments are only due if you want to change the code.

If your roadmap requires you to mostly change tech-debt-laden code, then inflation is low (no new code) and so the interest payments are high. This is a good time to prioritize paying tech debt down.

Conversely, code that has debt, but basically works and is not going to be changed, is like having a 0% loan. You have the loan. It may one day come due, but at least you don’t have to service it if you don’t want to. If your team and codebase doubles in size, that debt will feel smaller.