Over the last few weeks, the team I work on has been observing a holiday code freeze — no new features, and lots of time spent fixing bugs and paying down technical debt. Morale is through the roof — even our designated curmudgeon seems to be enjoying himself — but my favorite thing has been seeing the snowball effect that occurs when we start fixing little things. We took the time to add some logging to a fickle process, and discovered that a little caching could go a long way. We created a Chrome extension to help us work on and debug our app; suddenly, bugs are easier to investigate, and we have a place we can add new utilities as they occur to us. We buckled down and rewrote and documented a swath of code whose original developer left the company over the summer, and now we have new insight into how we can use it to solve problems in the future. We made more than 40 improvements to our application’s accessibility, and baked an appreciation of its importance into our team’s DNA in the process. We finally addressed a longstanding // TODO by adding a handful of lines to our codebase, and cut several kilobytes from our production app in the process. We instrumented our code to give us real-world performance numbers from actual users, and created a page where we can see those numbers in real time so we know if something is going wrong.

At our team retrospective the other day, the happiness and enthusiasm was palpable, and the list of answers to “what went well?” was long. Whenever I give a talk about refactoring a codebase, someone in the audience always asks, “How do I convince my company that this is as important as the next big feature or deadline?” My answer is simple: for the sake of the health of your team and your project, you can’t afford to not pay attention to these things. If the powers that be don’t believe you, well, we’re hiring. :)

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