Tech debt is eating the world

Thomas Struth, Neutral Buoyancy Lab, JSC, Houston, 2017
  • What is tech debt?
  • A case study on government infrastructure and tech debt: Healthcare.Gov and COVID test distribution
  • A framework for nonprofits on using tech debt strategically
  • The role of infrastructure in the Russia-Ukraine conflict
  • Be intentional about every infrastructure decision. You have to recognize that every decision around your tech stack is consequential. Every time you add in a new service or set out to build a new application, stop to have a conversation. Infrastructure here is defined very broadly as any digital tool you may use in the course of business.
  • Document those decisions: As you evaluate a new technology, document your decisions. List out pros and cons, identify alternatives, explain the rationale. This can be as simple as a one-page memo, or a more formal RFC like the one outlined here (“RFC” = request for comment).
  • If you see something, say something. As the project plays out, flag any changes to your tech stack or decisions that may have lasting consequences.
  • Question sunk costs. There is a human tendency to keep things moving. We figure that because we’re already made lots of investments into some endeavor that we have to see it through (aka the “sunk cost fallacy”). This is exacerbated with software projects, which are often too complex for a single individual to grasp. All the more important to pump the brakes. I can think of a few situations from my career where I wish I’d paused to question tech projects I’d inherited.
  • Analyze your tech debt. Finally, use the Reforge matrix to classify your tech debt. Call out the work, and scope it, and add it to your roadmaps. If it’s important enough to work on, it’s important enough to report out like you would a user- or customer-facing feature.
  • Information is the foundation for this conflict. Russia’s airwaves are filled with propaganda, and not much else. As soon as the war started, Putin deployed a digital blockade against alternatives points of view. The result is a chilling precedent: “Russia’s cleaving off is a defeat for the once-held Western belief that the internet is a tool for democracy that would lead authoritarian countries to open.” Masha Gessen and Ezra Klein dive deeper into this theme in an excellent episode of Ezra’s podcast.
  • The personal is political and all the world’s a stage. President Zelensky — who played the Ukrainian president on TV before assuming that role — has used social media to masterful effect, controlling the narrative on the global stage. (Life continues to imitate art and life and art and so on… what is this world?)
  • Activists across borders. Despite the blockade, Western activists have used services like Tinder, Google Maps, and Telegram to speak with Russians and counter propaganda, via Wired.
  • News organizations are evolving. The New York Times just this morning announced they’re starting up a channel on Telegram to get facts to people on the ground in Russia and Ukraine.
  • Tech companies are owning up. Platforms and tech companies are finally acknowledging their role in the new world order; they’re taking sides and taking action, largely against Russia. That’s great, in this instance. But it’s a strange precedent. It sheds light on what we all already know to be true: companies are more powerful geopolitical actors than many states. My hope is it will be harder for companies to claim ignorance and plausible deniability for their actions and externalities. A few examples of what companies have done against Russia, via Protocol:
  • But who will check Big Tech? The Electronic Frontier Foundation urges platforms not to change rules or to bow to public pressures. Wartime is a bad time to set new precedents, they argue, and they’re probably right.
  • All streaming on the western front. The Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) Community is uncovering truth and mistruth in real-time. News outlets, flooded with video from social media, have to use increasingly sophisticated methods to uphold their veracity. CNN uses cross-references weather, geotags, satellite imagery, and metadata.
  • My brilliant friend Aaron Reiss takes a look at Chinatown’s infrastructure, and the rich history behind Chinese street signs.
  • Subscribe to Astra, the new international magazine of literature, brought to you by another brilliant friend, Nadja Spiegelman.
  • The New Yorker takes a look at Google Search and what it isn’t showing you.
  • Substack moves to introduce its own app in a bid to circumvent email platforms like Google and Gmail — who ultimately determine the fate for Substack’s creators and their email content
  • Web 3 and the ‘For Good’ Trap.” Decentralized tech does not equal decentralized power. Nice piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
  • Sober Questioning,” a great new column in NYMag on the highs and lows of sober living.
  • I’m also in like with a new running newsletter I discovered on NYT.

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Michael Linares

Michael Linares

Product Director @ Crisis Text Line