Software is Eating the World: The Challenge in Finding and Keeping Developers

Technical talent comes at a premium, and the market for skilled developers is going to continue to heat up. Traditional business models are being upended by software solutions.

Take the auto industry as an example: If you purchase a car in 2017, chances are there were more software engineers than mechanical engineers involved in bringing that car to market. This means that almost every organization with a long-term orientation needs to become very good at attracting and retaining developers in order to thrive.

The competition for talent is fierce. Sophisticated technical skills are in constant demand, and new start-ups are absorbing the best and brightest candidates right out of school. As these organizations scale, they need to keep growing their staff in order to build more product better and faster.

So, in order to hire and retain this top talent, you need to understand the reasons people want to join, what keeps them happy in their jobs, and what might trigger an employee to leave.

Who do developers like to work with?

  • As a rule, developers like to work with other smart people – people who can understand and appreciate the problems they are trying to solve and who have an enthusiasm for challenging work. A great development manager hires people who are smarter than them, without feeling threatened by the accomplishments of their team.
  • Developers also thrive in a respectful environment. They prefer to work with people who are helpful and cooperative. While there is plenty of room for quirkiness and idiosyncrasies, disrespect and harassment can quickly poison a team.
  • A talented developer is often at their best when they work for a respected company that treats its employees well, surrounded by friends and former classmates or colleagues.

What kind of work motivates developers?

As cliché as it may sound, developers seek to change the world. They are looking for opportunities to apply their considerable skills and education to problems that have real-life impact.

When a developer reviews a potential employer, the mission matters – possibly more than anything else. Developers will gravitate to organizations that give them the opportunity to build useful products and services.

Most developers want to understand how their contributions are going to make a difference, and that what they have built will endure. Furthermore, developers are hardwired to seek new and interesting projects. They are driven by an innate need to solve problems, and solve them completely.

Communicating the novelty, challenge, and importance of the work being done can go a long way to attracting a skilled candidate.

How do developers like to work?

It’s well established that developers expect to earn based on their value and contribution. In most cases, this requires a combination of competitive salary and appropriate equity in the venture they’ve joined (commensurate with risk, experience and value). A compensation package that offers the right incentive mix is one of the best ways to align a developer for long-term employment with an organization.

Once they’ve bought in to the mission and vision of the company, ensure that they can see how spectacular effort can translate into a spectacular outcome for them, personally.

Developers also like to be able to adapt to the changing technology landscape. If they are working for a company that is slow to adopt new technology, or is unwilling to take risks in innovation, they may grow bored or dissatisfied in their role and begin to look for more bleeding-edge challenges elsewhere.

Ensure developers have the opportunity to keep learning and applying new skills and knowledge in their role to keep them happy in the long term.

Many developers have also adopted a particular work style that suits them well – some combination of close teamwork in an office space and independent work from home or elsewhere when required. In addition to providing employees with the flexibility they need to manage their personal lives, this approach can often help maximize individual productivity.

Focus on what it is that motivates developers

Remember, developers are motivated by the challenge and have “bought in” to the mission. Engaged employees will go above and beyond to contribute even when they are away from their desks.

Over the next several years, most businesses will become technology companies of some sort in order to remain competitive. Growth and change are never easy, but any employer that takes the time to truly understand what motivates developers – and builds those factors into their culture – will be rewarded with a sharper competitive edge, increased ability to scale, relevance in a changing world and a vibrant culture that employees are happy to be a part of.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ozzie Goldschmied is Chief Technology Officer at Ceridian – a leading human capital management technology company – where he spearheads all Research and Development and Product Management functions while focusing on best practices, excellence and innovation in product delivery. Prior to Ceridian, Ozzie was a founding member of Dayforce and Senior Vice President of Engineering. He was instrumental in leading the design and development of Dayforce HCM, the award-winning single application for human capital management.  Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Ozzie Goldschmied


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