Projects that fail never pay off tech debt

I just shut down a project I started in October 2021. It was code for a startup, but it turned out the idea didn’t have traction, and my partner and I decided that it wasn’t worth pursuing. The tech debt in this project will never be paid. If I had been paying it all along, it would have been a waste of time.

This was not a full-time project for me, and I am the only developer on it, so there’s not a ton of code. But, even a three-month project could have a little debt, so even though it’s not that old, it had some debt.

Like most projects, it had dependencies. I just checked my yarn.lock files and I see that the last time I did an update was about a year ago. I consider all third-party dependencies to be tech debt, especially as they get out of date, so that’s one that’s always building on most projects. The only way to avoid dependency debt is to not have dependencies. Which, in a way, is true now.

The biggest codebase issue that I was wrangling with was authorization. The permission model was getting a little out of control, and the code wasn’t helping make sense of it. I had been planning something more attribute based in the code, but well, now I don’t have to worry about it.

If there’s a lesson to learn here, it’s this: Don’t rush to pay off debt in projects that have a good chance of dying. The goal should be to get customers. To the extent that it’s not externally perceivable to customers, code health is usually not much of a factor in early traction.