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IT People’s Technical Debt and Reputation Credit

In Canada and USA, when people apply for a credit card or a loan/mortgage, the lending institutions will always do a credit history check against the applicant, and based on the result, they will decide whether to approve the application or decide what loan rates the applicant will be charged. This practice no doubt greatly reduces the potential default risks the financial institutions may take.

On the other hand, because of this practice, most people are very careful about their financial well-being, and everyone tries the best to be responsible for their financial decisions so they can avoid a bad credit history. This is such a good win-win scenario from both social and personal perspectives.

I have been in IT industry long enough to see lots of bad results because of improper trust bestowed to people who are assigned or hired to take on some tasks. The most disturbing thing to me is these people can leave for another job without any “credit trace” left behind for whatever “damage” they have done to their projects / work and may repeat their faults again (because they may not even realize their faults in some cases, I will give an example later).

I define “Technical Debt” as the negative impact (to either an employer or a community involved) an IT professional has caused through his professional work, and “Reputation Credit” as the positive impact. I always dream that if there exists an organization that can collects all IT professionals reputation credit history and with some formula, can assign a credit score to each person, then there will be far fewer failed IT projects and far less wasted time and money in various IT activities. For example, it will be easier for companies to hire people and make the justified compensation package based on one’s credit score just like banks will charge you less rate for a loan when you have a high credit score, and it will also be much easier for decision makers to decide whose recommendations may be less risky to follow thus less possible to have a project slipped into mess.

Here are the two true stories that I believe if we had such “Reputation Credit Bureau”, there would be different outcomes:

1. A Canadian IT company has a new CEO hired, the company has been service-oriented by providing out-sourcing work on developing applications and consulting service and has been profitable all the time, the new CEO, for whatever reason, tried to change the company’s business model by developing a hardware product, and as such, spending millions in setting up a new office in US, after two years, it seems the hardware product does not achieve the expected response from the market, now the CEO left the company and got hired in another start-up company in Silicon Valley. The Canadian company had to wrap up the product project and dissolve the US office and also laid off 40% staff in Canadian office. It left a bad taste to all people affected.

I bet the CEO should get a very bad score (to the brink of bankruptcy) for her technical debt owed to this Canadian company and to all those laid-off people both in Canada and US offices. I also bet the start-up company in Silicon Valley will have a second thought if it run a “reputation credit history” report on this candidate.

2. A company started a multi-million dollar project by using some fancy technologies, in the initial discussion of the technical design, some proposed design points, for example, data modelling, are strongly objected by the DBA team who have been dealing with data modelling and sql server technologies all their career lives, but decision makers finally takes the opinion of the developer team, in which the technical architect is a member (who himself has very little knowledge of the complex data modelling). The result is a huge productivity underperformance, and the project was delayed again and again. The funny part here is those who strongly recommended the design and the methodology already left the company within 1 year, and those who remain are struggling to deal with the issues caused by such a flawed design. I’d believe those who initially proposed such architect design truly believe this is the best choice, but what puzzles me is how one can (or dare) stick to their opinions when someone else with more domain knowledge on the topic are against their opinions? In an analogy, it is like I dare to stick to my t-sql solution proposal when Itzik Ben-Gan recommended otherwise after reviewing my proposal. It is just beyond my understanding how this could ever happen.

I keep on thinking that if there is such technical debt thing, those who do not have enough domain knowledge will be very cautious to propose something that they are not sure of themselves, knowing there will be “penalty” (i.e. low reputation credit score) down the road if things go south, and as such, the correct recommendation from the DBA team may be adopted (for the data modelling part), thus avoiding the current headaches.

Of course, IT industry is not a financial industry, so this “reputation credit bureau” will not come to reality any time soon, but I still believe with spending in IT industry so big (thus big stake in financial well-being to companies), someday, such “reputation credit bureau” organization will be created in one form or another, and it will be beneficial not only to employers(who can hire the best people they can afford) but also to individuals (who will know that they will be fairly compensated). Such “bureau” can sustain itself by charging for any credit history queries just as the current credit bureau does (Equifax / TransUnion).

I am looing forward to that day…

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