Technical debt is like ketchup
Have you ever tried washing dried, day-old ketchup off a dish? It’s not fun. What would have taken just a couple seconds to rinse off while it was still fresh can take minutes and multiple attempts to scrub off later.
Worse, the realisation that you’re going to have to deal with the dried ketchup is most likely to come right when you need to do something else with that dish the most.
As you let ketchup (and other foods) accumulate on your dishes without cleaning them immediately, eventually your entire collection of dishes is unusable.
Some dishes are more disposable than others. For some dishes, you’re eventually more likely to throw the dish out and start over with a new one than find a way to make the ketchup-spackled disaster you’ve created serviceable again.
One of the hardest parts of software development is simplifying and explaining it to the non-technical people who write the checks. Technical debt is one of those crucially important concepts that can alter the course of an entire company if left unchecked, but it can be incredibly difficult to clearly convey that to non-technical stakeholders.
Your negative notions about what debt is might be what a “business guy” considers productive leverage. You can just pay that debt back after the new feature makes us all rich, right? I wonder if that has ever happened?
Next time, tell them it’s like ketchup.