We use the polite term “legacy” for code that has lost all sense of vitality even though it might run every day and exert the unchanging influence of past decisions on all who for whatever reason are unable to walk away.
I coined the term technical debt to describe a software development strategy by which skillful and alert teams could create excellent software in a competitive environment. Through careful attention to accumulating insufficiencies one could engage customers and learn what is both valuable and possible together without losing control of the product itself.
I was drawing an analogy between the debt financing of a growing company and the incremental intellectual investment in a growing program. I used the idea of debt metaphorically, a metaphor that has been lost on pretty much everyone.
YOUTUBE pqeJFYwnkjE Uploaded on Feb 14, 2009. Ward Cunningham reflects on the history, motivation and common misunderstanding of the "debt metaphor" as motivation for refactoring.
I remain fabulously interested in how the most skillful developers employ the most powerful of computers to make things of lasting value. I am bored by foolish people who get themselves in a pinch by thinking they can cut corners and get away with it forever. There are so many.
Metaphors drawn from life are proving more powerful than those drawn from economics.
The very notion of done now means all of your failures have been externalized. The transaction is complete. Those cut corners are your problem now, sucker.
When I hear talk of done I think of liquidity events. That's when the entrepreneur and his investors take the money and run. But run where? A mansion on the hill? An island paradise?
A wiki is like a garden of knowledge. It deserves to be tended with care. A wiki is not like a stream where we dump stuff and expect it to be gone tomorrow.
A stream turns out to be a poor place to dump stuff too. We now understand this knowing that it won't be gone tomorrow. And likewise the internet is a poor place to dump stuff thinking that its capacity is infinite.
With the debt metaphor I tried to explain a smart way to get software from first prototype to viable business. Wiki embodies that same understanding.
Since I coined technical debut I've seen wiki employed to build the the largest individual collection of knowledge the world has ever known. Over the same interval I watched entrepreneurial finance debase the very notion of a viable business to a long series of dead unicorns.
What we once thought of as an engine of vitality is looking increasingly like the engine of death. Entrepreneuring no longer represents any kind of ideal, not because it deploys resources poorly, but because it must destroy its own products to survive.