In the early stages of a startups development, products that are shipped and updates implemented are often done in a hurry. Working fast is mission-critical.
Done is always preferable and more realistic than perfect. Most founders are if not embarrassed, then certainly never satisfied with their first or even tenth iteration of a product. The problem is, products shipped quickly often come with some bugs, and technical debt.
Like any kind of debt, when you’ve got too much of it, moving forward becomes a challenge. Problems are harder to fix. The customer experience suffers as a result. Team morale suffers too, as developers are spending more and more time fixing problems, and less focusing on what would move the needle and generate positive forward momentum.
Is there a way to solve early-stage technical debt challenges?
When startups are in a position to scale, either through a large follow-on investment, or revenue, founders need to go back to the drawing board. Look at the code, and product, the features and roadmap with fresh eyes. Often, at this stage, it pays to have a third-party team of developers review everything.
A team that built a product won’t see it the same way as a team of outside experts. Developers who’ve been working on the same code and product for months aren’t going to see it afresh. It is infinitely more difficult to come up with new solutions to problems you’ve encountered or simply put up with month after month.
Whereas, with an external team, you can be more confident they are going to see what internal developers have missed, or given up trying to solve. When speed and efficiency is everything, taking more time to achieve better results isn’t always possible.
One way, therefore, to solve these problems is with a code review service. Also known as a software audit. Providing this is done the right way, with the right partners in place to support your startup, an audit should carefully review the architecture, style, security and efficiency of the source code. This isn’t a peer code review, or a debugging exercise. A review of the source code should produce the following outcomes:
• An exhaustive analysis of various aspects of your code;
• List of issues found during the code audit process;
• Detailed recommendations for fixing these issues and improving the source code quality.
How startups benefit from source code reviews?
When external developers review source code, you can be sure they’re not invested in the long-term outcomes. Yes, most firms or consultants who do this work are hoping to work with the client going forward, but unlike an internal team there aren’t career or stock options tied to the outcome of that work.
This means you gain the advantage of objectivity. Clarity and perspective; which are often missing in a fast-paced startup environment. A review process that makes it easier for founders and CTOs to make more effective decisions about a product based on the audit results.
When a founder gains clarity and perspective, they gain the advantage of time. These outcomes are designed to save a startup time, and therefore, money. Invest a little now to avoid spending time and money generating more technical debt.
Make the right, strategic, smart, long-term decisions about how a product evolves, what features to build, what needs fixing, and how to make it more secure and scalable. Before planning for an audit, you should know how to map out the goals and objectives.
How to prepare for a software audit?
Founders hoping to save time and money, wanting some clarity and perspective, need to approach a software audit the right way.
It isn’t as simple as brining in an external team and hoping for the best. Like any product related project, there should be goals and objectives. You need to know what you want to get out of this process. These are a few of the things founders should be expecting:
1. How secure is your code? As every founder knows, tech startups are a prime hunting ground for cyber criminals looking for vulnerabilities and wanting to steal data. Bots are everywhere. Any weaknesses will be readily and quickly exploited, through any means necessary.
A code audit should look for weaknesses, such as SQL/HTML-injections or mass assignment vulnerabilities. Penetration testing could be included as part of this work. Knowing how to make your code more secure is a valuable exercise.
2. Is your code stable? A skilled code reviewer isn’t only looking for bugs. User testing is more suitable for identifying those, as you need to see how end-users interact with the product. Whereas a stability assessment is designed to identify whether the code is littered with errors and weaknesses.
An audit should identify whether the code has memory leaks, deadlocks, undefined behavior, and other errors that would cause instability.
3. Is your code easy to maintain? Maintainability or “scalability” are often seen as interchangeable and desirable outcomes. When software is developed quickly, it isn’t often easy to maintain. Developers aren’t thinking long-term, they are only looking to get the job done and move onto the next.
Software that is easier to maintain, and more logical in the way it’s built and the outcomes of that work can be scaled more effectively.
Finding out whether your code is secure, stable and scalable (and therefore, easy to maintain) should be minimum outcomes you desire from a code audit. With this information, you can make decisions about the long-term growth of the product more easily and plan a roadmap that benefits from the insights and clarity a code audit produces.
At Anadea, we perform code audits for software systems, web and mobile apps. If you are facing scaling challenges with your digital project and would like to talk to independent experts, contact us here.