Technical Debt Is Like Your Friend, The Mafia Bookie

You’ve known the guy for years… he’s your friend and you’ve never had any troubles in spite of his job. Then one day, you’re hard up for some money to pay rent or get a car repair done. Fortunately your friend is there to help. In spite of your misgivings about taking money from him, he assures you that it’s just a friendly loan between people that have known each other for years. It has nothing to do with his professional life, he says. In fact, it was such a small amount of money that he may not even ask you to repay it. You can relax knowing that it’s not a big deal and you took care of your needs.

Then you get into another bind, and with the confidence of your friendship and previous dealings, you take another small loan from your friend. After all, he still hasn’t asked you to repay the original loan. Your friend is a little more reluctant this time, but agrees to spot you the cash. Then it happens again… and again… and again… pretty soon you’ve built up a significant amount of debt with your friend – both in your friendship and in terms of money owed.

One day, your friend shows up at your door with a very large, very angry looking person following behind him. When you invite your friend and his guest into your house and ask them how they are doing, you’re informed that your friend is here to collect on the debt that you owe. Objecting to the collection and reminding your friend that he said he may not need them repaid does no good. Your friend says that the original amount of money he gave you was forgiven a long time ago – but the continuous borrowing of money took your relationship to a professional level and he now has to consider you a client.

You panic. You plead. You beg. You ask for just a little more time to find the money, and he agrees because he trusts you and has known for so many years. But now you have a deadline by which you must repay certain debts, or that very large angry man behind your former friend will be paying you an unwelcome visit.

The time frame you were given passes by much more quickly than you wanted and you were only able to get a part of the money together. A knock on the door sends a wave of panic through you. Horrified by the possibilities of a very painful encounter with your bookie’s assistant, you open to door to find him in a good mood. He says he understands that you don’t have all the money and while he’s disappointed, he appreciates the effort and is willing to cut a deal. In addition to the money that you’ve just given to him, he says that you can continue to pay off the debt by doing odd-jobs for him when he needs you.

You don’t really have a choice – other than the possibility of spending time in a hospital after a dance with a man who looks like death incarnate. Reluctantly you agree to the bookie’s proposition and he begins to tell you about the first job that he needs you to take care of.

“Oh, and by the way”, says your former friend as he is about to leave. “You’ll probably need this to help with the unfortunate situation with your car”, he continues as he tosses a small manila envelope at your feet. Confused, you open the package and find nearly twenty thousand dollars in cash – more than double what you already owe. As you look up again, you that the man who was once your friend is gone. As your confusion grows and you wonder what he meant by the “unfortunate situation with your car”, a bone rattling and ear splitting noise is heard from just outside your garage. Rushing to the window, your jaw drops and your face turns pale as you see your car in flames with large pieces of it strewn about the lawn.

Sweat pours down your face as a rush of fear and realization sets in. The man who was once your friend has become your boss; a bookie with ties to the mafia has destroyed your car and stuck you directly into his back pocket with a large amount of money that you must pay back or work off.

And you wonder… will you ever be able to pay down this debt? Or will it continue to haunt you, bringing additional visits from a former friend or worse.

Ed – a software developer in the company’s product development division – is startled and jumps a little in his chair as Tom, a coworker, taps him on the shoulder.

“You ok, Ed?”, asks Tom.

“Yeah… sorry… it’s just this code”, replied Ed, as he turns back to his desk and taps on the monitor. “You remember those ‘git-r-done’ decisions we made a few months ago?” asks Ed.

“Yeah, of course. It wasn’t an easy choice, but I still think it was the right thing to do given the circumstances.”, replied Tom.

“Yeah”, said Ed, his voice giving away the uncertainty he now feels. “I thought so, too.” he continues. “But ever since then, we seem to have lost what little standards we had.”

Ed lets out a large sigh as he swivels his chair around to face Tom, who is now sitting on the edge of Ed’s desk.

“It’s like being in debt with a mafia bookie that used to be your friend”, Ed says. “One day, your ‘friend’”, Ed continues, using air-quotes around the word ‘friend’, “he’ll show up at your door demanding to be paid back before an angry customer decides to tear you a new one and take his business elsewhere. And here I am, staring squarely into the face of the debt that I owe after reading that email about our client not being happy.”

“I know”, says Tom. “That’s why I came over. I have some ideas on how we can start paying down this debt. And, even though I don’t think we’ll be able to take care of all the issues right now, I think we can at least get the client off our backs for a while. They should be willing to let us continue fixing issues over however long a time it takes if we can get the big ones done by next week.”

Ed, feeling the weight of the technical debt that his team has incurred, agrees to discuss Tom’s plan of action, hoping that they’ll be able to at least prevent the customer from taking their business elsewhere.

A DSL For Handling Zero, One, Many