Technical debt is when code is written so quickly in the interest of deadlines, profit, and ambitious feature promises that bugs get introduced ("Don't worry, we can patch it later") and unintentional complexity accumulates in the codebase on account of the future workarounds and awkward additions required to fix it. It's called "debt" because you end up having to pay back the time you saved with interest. And interest compounds.

This is as pernicious a problem in software development as it is in finance: to borrow from the future with high rates of interest such that it eventually becomes impossible to pay back. At the root of the issue is impatience (I want this thing now), but also greed (I must have this thing), irresponsibility (I won't be the one to have to deal with the consequences), and nihilism (the future probably happen anyway, nothing matters, whatever).

Austrian economists refer to the underlying issue here as high time preference, meaning the discounting of the future and valuing immediacy—the present—much more highly than assuring long-term stability and reliability. High time preference behavior has a lot of negative moral and cultural knock-on effects, and these effects can be felt within companies where doing things is valued more than doing things right.

Debt—borrowing with interest—can be a useful tool when it's done conservatively from a debt-free foundation on which to fall back on. When developing core infrastructure and technical architecture, a careful, methodical, low time preference approach is ideal because it accounts for a future in which the end product will exist. Of course, it's precisely the building of foundations that are most susceptible to technical debt because it is at the beginning when the future appears farthest away.

Beginnings are when it is most tempting to cut corners to bring a vision into existence. Beginnings are also when it is most vital to resist this temptation, not just because of technical debt but because of the kind of technical culture you set into motion. And culture also compounds.