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Avoiding the Stigma of Technical Debt

“Technical debt” is the sin of a company not investing in technology, which like not paying off a credit card, causes costs to spiral out of control. The theory goes, as the technical debt increases, projects take longer with more difficult and frequent problems. The cycle is repeated and feeds upon itself, causing harm and strife to companies that fail to maintain a standard of technology. Therefore, a company could reasonably conclude that the only sound business decision is to eliminate “technical debt” by prioritizing technology growth. However, it is only one consideration of a very complex problem. Luckily, problems like these have been solved for years. “Technical debt” is a simply a new way to state that there is “opportunity loss” when systems aren’t upgraded .

A standard to prevent technical debt is not explicitly stated and is inherently vague. This is troublesome because companies can also face overspending by leaning too far forward, innovating new technologies out of fear. Being the innovator can have burdensome costs if your business model now depends on discarded technologies like Betamax, HD-DVD, or AppleTalk. They are left paralyzed by indecision, stuck between the risks and costs of adapting early or the safety and thrift of integrating later.

Instead of waiting until the accumulated debt arrives, be bold and see where you can find opportunity instead of blindly chasing technology. Find a business impact that improves with new technology, create a small task force to test it, and determine if it can achieve a concrete goal. Technology is cheaper to implement, faster to setup, and more scalable than ever before. Gathering evidence, especially evidence that directly helps the bottom line, will help drive wise technology investment with enthusiastic executive support.

“Technical debt” is an easy way to state the dangers of underinvesting in technology. However, to build a complete narrative, stay engaged with the groups you’re supporting and give evidence of the new opportunities available by adopting new technology.

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Love the Hacker, Hate the Problem

Hackers have been receiving quite a bit of bad press recently. Cryptocurrency blackmail, planes flying sideways, and cars driving into ditches all help sell an image of hackers as mercenaries and anarchists, but it ignores the motivations of countless individuals tinkering with systems in positive ways. The drive to emphasize “malicious” hackers trivializes their real capability to solve problems which arise from society’s reliance on incredibly complex systems, which can fail at the speed of light.

Good employees need to be able to understand a system of processes, and then alter those processes to benefit their goals. However, great employees are the ones able to see through the sea of competing processes and identify the friction. This is a defining trait of a hacker, the ability to fall in love with this sea of unknowns, study it with devoted reverence, and perhaps even zealotry. Does this level of dedication make some people feel uncomfortable, despite the good works that are accomplished?

It appears to be perfectly acceptable for web articles on food hacks, management hacks, and dog care hacks, which give insight to really difficult problems. These are just hackers of a fleshier science. While the difficulty of these topics is equivalent to most technology topics, such as packet routing or database normalization, it appears the mere mention of technology taints the conversation. Technology forms a mythos where the hacker is regarded more like a wizard than an expert in their field. This completely skews the tone of public opinion, and suddenly technical problems center on either the incompetence of developers or the selfishness of hackers wishing to trade public safety for profit/fame.

While hackers are at best the anti-heroes of the news cycle, the real villains are the problems lurking in the dark. Technologies constantly change creating problems we have not yet begun to imagine, however if we appreciate the complexity of the situation perhaps we would be more inclined to celebrate a hacker mindset.

The Security Aspect that OPM Investigators are Ignoring

While Congressional questioning and media interest has intensified, the focus of Office of Personnel Management(OPM) investigations concentrate on technical controls, avoiding entire swaths of security best pracVeterantices regarding data usage and retention. Did OPM adequately gauge the need for this massive warehouse of detailed personal information in the first place?

At the OPM hearing, Congressman Stephen Lynch lamented the amount of information collected, he pointed to a 127-page questionnaire and stated  “… we ask them everything. What kind of underwear they wear …” If a Congressman is joking about the excessive levels of detail in just one report, I wonder if any effort has been made to “right size” the data collected by OPM or the organizations they support.

Technical controls, such as implementing encryption and adding the new DHS Einstein, play a role in data security. However we have learned that sometimes such measures fail. This breach raises questions on how organizations can responsibly gather information on individuals. If we know controls fail, consideration should be given to collecting and storing only the most useful data, thereby reducing operating costs, risks and the impact of breaches.