Self-Admitted Technical Debt

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2023-03-16 17:30:06

The word "FIXME" appears 18 times in the source code of a small open source project I contribute to, and almost exactly the same number of times in the much larger code base I help develop in my job. Is that just a coincidence, or does it mean that I'm comfortable with a fixed amount of technical debt in any project regardless of size? Alternatively, does the lower density of "FIXME" comments at work imply that I'm less comfortable with technical debt on the job? All three explanations are plausible, and each one might be true under different circumstances.

The authors of this study found more similarities than differences between industry and open source when it comes to self-admitted technical debt. They also turned up a fourth possible explanation: that developers might be less comfortable admitting technical debt when it might affect their careers. Insights like this are why our profession needs empirical studies: not just to test ideas, but to suggest new ones.

Fiorella Zampetti, Gianmarco Fucci, Alexander Serebrenik, and Massimiliano Di Penta. Self-admitted technical debt practices: a comparison between industry and open-source. Empirical Software Engineering, Sep 2021. doi:10.1007/s10664-021-10031-3.

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