Understanding the Concept of Technical Debt

The term ‘technical debt’ was first described by Ward Cunningham in the early 1990s. Cunningham, a pioneer in the field of software development, was grappling with the trade-off scenarios inherent in fast-paced, iterative product development. He compared certain expedient, less than optimal technology solutions to a financial debt. Just like financial debt, these solutions could offer short-term gains, but if not addressed promptly, would accrue ‘interest’ in the form of additional complexity and cost over time.

Technical debt is not only the sum of bad code or outdated technology. It is, rather, an integral part of the strategic decision-making process in software development. Sometimes taking on technical debt is the right thing to do, a strategic choice to meet deadlines or address immediate business needs. However, the danger lies in not recognizing it for what it is, and not taking steps to ‘repay’ it over time. Unmanaged technical debt leads to a codebase becoming increasingly difficult to understand, change, and maintain, resulting in slower feature development, more bugs, and increasing developer frustration.

Building on Ward Cunningham’s concept, Martin Fowler, another luminary in the software development field, refined and expanded our understanding of technical debt. Fowler devised a quadrant model to categorize technical debt into four types, based on whether the debt was incurred deliberately or inadvertently, and whether it was reckless or prudent. His nuanced view acknowledges that not all debt is negative. Some forms of it, such as ‘Prudent Deliberate’ debt (conscious trade-offs made for expediency with an explicit plan for repayment), are integral to the fast, iterative nature of modern software development.

Automated Testing: Curbing Technical Debt with Test Automation

The future cost incurred due to expedient but short-term solutions in software development can pose significant challenges to maintainability and future development. One proactive mitigation strategy for technical debt is the systematic implementation of test automation. This article discusses how QA automation, when done right, serves as a powerful means to control and reduce uncompleted work – debt.

Test automation focuses on converting manual test cases into automated scripts, thus increasing the efficiency and reliability of testing procedures. It provides a protective layer that safeguards the codebase from the introduction of bugs, one of the primary contributors to technical debt. The increased speed and frequency of testing through automation facilitate early and quick detection of errors, which prevents debt from accruing over time. Automated testing can significantly reduce the time and effort that people need to put into repetitive tasks. Once tests are automated, they can be run any number of times without additional work.

Automation can easily cover more test scenarios and data combinations, thus ensuring a comprehensive test coverage that might be impractical with manual testing. This can lead to a higher overall quality of the software.

Quality Assurance: Technical Debt Mitigation Through Quality Assurance Standards

The long-term costs of maintaining, modifying, and enhancing the software can significantly increase due to technical debt. To manage and reduce this debt, a proactive approach is necessary, with one of the most effective being the implementation of test automation.

The International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) provides a widely recognized certification that underlines competent and efficient testing practices. Incorporating ISTQB’s best practices in test automation leads to well-designed test cases, enhancing the early detection of bugs, which are often the main contributors to technical debt.

ISO software testing standards, particularly ISO/IEC/IEEE 29119, offer guidelines that can be adopted to minimize quality debt through test automation. This standard provides a comprehensive approach to testing, including processes, documentation, techniques, and keyword-driven testing, which

are indispensable components of automated QA testing. Applying these standards ensures that the automated QA testing is efficient, maintainable, and effective in catching issues early.

In addition to the ISTQB practices and ISO standards, the implementation of test automation within continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines proves to be an effective approach to reduce technical debt. Automated tests performed during continuous integration enable rapid feedback on the state of the software. This process allows for quick detection and resolution of issues, inhibiting the accumulation of quality debt due to unnoticed bugs or system issues. Automated QA testing, underpinned by ISTQB best practices and ISO software testing standards, provides a potent strategy for mitigating technical debt. While not a cure-all solution, when properly implemented and integrated into a CI/CD pipeline, it can greatly help in managing and reducing development debt.


Technical debt, the metaphorical cost of cutting corners in software development, can be reduced through a combination of practices such as regular code refactoring, adherence to coding standards, rigorous testing (including automated testing), and a commitment to clear, comprehensive documentation. Prioritizing tasks related to technical debt in the product backlog and addressing them during iteration planning can also help manage and reduce this debt.

Automated QA testing, underpinned by ISTQB best practices and ISO software testing standards, provides an effective strategy for mitigating quality debt. While not a cure-all solution, when properly implemented and integrated into a CI/CD pipeline, it can greatly help in managing and reducing development debt. Remember, it is strategic, well-informed decisions, and the judicious use of standards and best practices that make a true difference in handling and reducing technical debt.