Internationalization as a form of technical debt

By | 2014-09-03

debt.jpg

The term technical debt is often used to label implementation choices that trade long-term goals for limited, short-term solutions. Technical debt has a negative connotation because it means that you have accrued a technical obligation that must be resolved before you can make future progress. Teams take on technical debt for many reasons: short schedules, insufficient knowledge, poor team collaboration, and a host of others. Generally, you want to avoid technical debt because it represents a technical hurdle that you have avoided or have resolved only partly. Technical debt limits the rate at which can innovate and progress in the future.

I’ve often thought about how many product and software teams approach software internationalization. The typical team will begin development with a single geographical market. The team knows that they want to succeed internationally, but they don’t worry about that concern at first. They have schedules, product features, and short-term needs that demand attention. They sacrifice long-term goals for short-term wins. They ignore best practices in software internationalization because of insufficient knowledge or perhaps even laziness. Over time, internationalization work becomes technical debt that must be paid to make further progress into desired markets. 

The disheartening fact is that unattended technical debt in internationalization will eventually require code refactoring, new implementations, and even updated designs. Interest increases rapidly. At some point, you may not be able to do everything yourself, and you might need external help.

Fortunately, internationalization does not have to become technical debt. Basic internationalization usually does not have huge upfront costs for either schedules or resources. Internationalization can be integrated into every sprint or delivery schedule. The very basic concepts are simple, and a little up-front and regular consideration will pay huge dividends.

So, what can you do now to avoid technical debt in internationalization? I suggest you tackle this in a few steps:

  1. Make everyone responsible for knowing the basic issues and concerns in internationalization.
  2. Resolve to implement best practices for each of the concerns that will affect your product.
  3. Make internationalization a part of your ongoing development and review process.

In an upcoming blog, I’ll provide you with some resources for each of these steps. 

All the best,
John O’Conner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *