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Social Debt in Software Engineering: Towards a Crisper Definition

List of Authors: Damian Tamburri, Bill Curtis, Steven Fraser, Alfredo Goldman, Johannes Holvitie, Fabio da Silva, Will Snipes
Publisher: Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik GmbH
Publication year: 2016
Journal: Dagstuhl Reports
Book title *: Managing Technical Debt in Software Engineering
Title of series: Dagstuhl Reports
Number in series: 4
Volume number: 6
Number of pages: 1
ISSN: 2192-5283


Sustainable and scalable software systems require careful consideration over the force known as technical debt, i.e., the additional project cost connected to sub-optimal technical decisions. However, the friction that software systems can accumulate is not connected to technical decisions alone, but reflects also organizational, social, ontological and management decisions that refer to the social nature and any connected social debt of software – this nature is yet to be fully elaborated and understood. In a joint industry & academia panel, we refined our understanding of the emerging notion of social debt in pursuit of a crisper definition. We observed that social debt is not only a prime cause for technical debt but is also tightly knit to many of the dimensions that were observed so far concerning technical debt, for example software architectures and their reflection on organizations. Also we observed that social debt reflects and weighs heavily on the human process behind software engineering, since it is caused by circumstances such as cognitive distance, (lack of or too much of) communication, misaligned architectures and organizational structures.

The goal for social debt in the next few years of research should be to reach a crisp definition that contains the essential traits of social debt which can be refined into practical operationalizations for use by software engineering professionals in need of knowing more about their organizational structure and the properties/cost trade-off that structure currently reflects.

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Last updated on 2019-29-01 at 21:57