Any technology organization that has been operating for a while has invariably accumulated some “tech debt.” Tech debt results from programming short-cuts you take today with the intention of cleaning it up and making it perfect later. Until the debt is paid off, you will be paying “interest” in the form of extra work resulting from having done something sub-optimally the first time. The goal is to pay off the debt as quickly as possible to avoid the interest payments becoming overly burdensome.
In the valorous endeavor to pay down tech debt, Yodle’s trying a new tactic: vacation. Not so much the standard vacation-as-recreation, although some hackers might think clearing out tech debt qualifies as recreation. But a second definition of the term: a “leaving of something previously occupied,” i.e., one’s own office space.
“The reality is, it’s hard to get tech debt done,” says CIO Eric Raab. “The priorities of shipping product often take precedence. But people often take vacation and it’s no big deal. If a couple people take a week off, no one says anything. They just go. Thinking about that situation, it just hit me. We’re going to send engineers on vacation – to pay down tech debt.”
Here’s how it works: Come up with a tech project, either on your own or by plucking one off the tech “bounty board” where the meaty tech projects are listed. Write up what you’re going to do, how long it’s going to take and what the deliverable is going to be. Get it approved, and go. Yodle will pick up the tab.
Where can you go? That depends on the size of the project. Some projects might justify simply crossing the river – not too major of a commitment. Others may warrant traveling a greater distance.
“There are some jobs, small of value, where you could go to Jersey,” Raab says. “Bigger things, you can go to Vegas. Large, transformational projects warrant a long trip. If you wish to containerize our entire infrastructure and make it continuously deployable, you may have to visit Hawaii.”
The idea will work on a variety of scales. Some of Yodle’s Austin-based engineers simply want to come work out of the New York office, Raab explains, and some of the New York staff would like to go down to Austin. That gets the developers out of their routines and away from the daily demands that preclude repaying tech debt. That’s fine.
Or, get out of town, hang out by the hotel pool and decouple the code from an overgrown shared project. Raab checks a website that gives the connection speed for hotels nationwide, lest wifi be a concern.
No matter the details, the core principle is the same: If a change in venue will remove distractions and help you deliver breakthrough technologies, get out of town!