I'm looking for the term used to describe when the amount of cumulated hacks and workarounds have made a software code too expensive to maintain at a reasonable level of quality.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is better asked on Code Review
    – Yu Zhang
    Jan 8, 2017 at 18:51
  • I disagree, code quality is an extremely important part of software quality assurance in the software development life cycle. Personally as a QA engineer I am teaching CleanCode practises to developer if they have no knowledge of this. This is a very valid question, that does not fit codereview. It might be better and be already asked on softwareengineering.stackexchange.com though. Jan 8, 2017 at 19:03

3 Answers 3


Consider Ward Cunningham's technical debt metaphor. It isn't exactly what you describe. Technical debt is more the accumulation of hacks and workarounds, even if the accumulated expense is not yet "too expensive to maintain."

But it seems like it's in the ballpark of what you're asking about.

  • This is the term I was looking for, read it in a tech magazine a few months ago. Seems that I didn't remember the exact definition either and that was my problem while googling.
    – eridani
    Jan 8, 2017 at 21:55
  • I always thought tech-debt as a term was used when you knowingly add technical hacks to your product. Not when it was collected naturally overtime, but as I am writing this I think you might be spot-on as not knowing is worse and leads to more debt probably. Jan 9, 2017 at 15:05
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    The question said 'too expensive', not 'more expensive' so I feel that my answer is more correct. Just sayin' Jan 10, 2017 at 23:08

Hacks and workaround are technical debt.

A term I have heard commonly used for too much of them is

Drowning in technical Debt


Robert C. Martin also known as UncleBob has coined a term for this "Clean Code" the other way around is what you are describing and unmaintainable, un-extendable messy piece of code that smells. This would be unclean-code or messy-code, but also known as QuickAndDirtyCodeTM.

UncleBob wrote a book (Clean Code) about it that is a must read for any developer if you ask me. Be sure to watch his video explaining what types of unclean code you have and how it can ruin companies. He is a bit excentric, but if you can view past that it is a great watch.

This leads to "code smells", these are recongizable piece of code that match one or more known code smells. Martin Fowler wrote a book (Refactoring) about how to change smelly code in to better clean code.

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