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Don't "Enron" Your Software Project

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Aaron Erickson, the author of The Nomadic Developer, begins a new series on technical finance with a discussion of how technical debt, technical 'off-balance sheet entities,' and technical fraud undermine return on investment.

In today's world of massive financial catastrophe (events such as the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, or the Madoff pyramid scheme), it becomes almost quaint to think about comparatively small frauds such as the Enron scandal of 2001. These scandals make the news with seeming regularity, having profound effects on the financial markets.

Sadly, in the world of software development, we have our own versions of these scandals. Whereas financial scandals cause outrage and congressional hearings, the business of software delivery in IT has effectively normalized this condition, to the degree where we're surprised when it doesn't happen. The fact that most companies have to spend 80% of their software development budget maintaining code is not just an inconvenience for software developers who have to maintain bad code; it's literally a drag on economies that depend on productivity increases—usually from new computer technology—to grow. While it isn't a scandal that makes the news frequently, it's nonetheless an issue that acts like a tax on productivity.

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