Temporal discounting in technical debt: How do software practitioners discount the future?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Research units

  • University of Toronto
  • Blekinge Institute of Technology
  • Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi
  • University of Macedonia
  • University of Helsinki


Technical Debt management decisions always imply a trade-off among outcomes at different points in time. In such intertemporal choices, distant outcomes are often valued lower than close ones, a phenomenon known as temporal discounting. Technical Debt research largely develops prescriptive approaches for how software engineers should make such decisions. Few have studied how they actually make them. This leaves open central questions about how software practitioners make decisions. This paper investigates how software practitioners discount uncertain future outcomes and whether they exhibit temporal discounting. We adopt experimental methods from intertemporal choice, an active area of research. We administered an online questionnaire to 33 developers from two companies in which we presented choices between developing a feature and making a longer-term investment in architecture. The results show wide-spread temporal discounting with notable differences in individual behavior. The results are consistent with similar studies in consumer behavior and raise a number of questions about the causal factors that influence temporal discounting in software engineering. As the first empirical study on intertemporal choice in SE, the paper establishes an empirical basis for understanding how software developers approach intertemporal choice and provides a blueprint for future studies.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2019 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Technical Debt, TechDebt 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventInternational Conference on Technical Debt - Montreal, Canada
Duration: 26 May 201927 May 2019
Conference number: 2


ConferenceInternational Conference on Technical Debt
Abbreviated titleTechDebt

    Research areas

  • Behavioral software engineering, Decision making, Intertemporal choice, Psychology, Questionnaire, Technical debt, Technical debt management, Temporal discounting

ID: 40339855