Developers have emerged as the digital heroes of the pandemic

When the pandemic first hit, there was a lot of uncertainty across many industries. Businesses were largely unsure how they would weather the storm with some high profile enterprises shedding key staff in anticipation of a significant downturn, and those without a solid online offering had to transform themselves in an effort to survive as the world turned digital overnight.

With such a huge focus on the digital marketplace, one group of employees have stood out as a businesses’ most important asset. The employees that have enabled businesses to thrive in the digital world while the physical world goes into hibernation. The developers.

Even if you’re not in the business of selling software, chances are that technology enables everything your business does, and it’s your developers and engineers who are keeping it all afloat. But what are you doing to make sure that these highly skilled employees are happy, engaged and invested in your company?

New Relic recently hosted a roundtable with leaders across Asia-Pacific in the fintech, education and recruiting industries on the subject of attracting and retaining developer talent. Here are some of the key takeaways from the session that really resonated with myself and the wider group:

Retained talent equates to retained domain expertise

The most successful mid to senior level software engineers are successful not only because of their technical ability, but also because of their domain knowledge acquired over their tenure.  When you lose a highly talented developer, you also lose someone who intrinsically understands what makes the business tick.

Your most skilled developers also train those around them. Mentorship is a great way to share domain knowledge as it fosters an inclusive culture and also helps with faster onboarding and the upskilling of junior developers. Another point is that great talent helps attract great talent. Good word of mouth and presence at conferences all help to grow better talent and a better culture in the company. Success breeds success.

Developers want engaging work and continuous learning opportunities

Developers need to feel challenged. They didn’t become developers so they could troubleshoot issues all day. Developers want meaningful and challenging work, together with opportunities for continuous growth. If you think about what generally motivates a developer, it’s not money, it’s a challenge. If developers feel like they are always troubleshooting, or always supporting legacy tech as opposed to modern technologies, new architecture, open source and cloud, they’re likely to feel like they are stuck in the year 2000, not 2020. Providing the right tools so devs can become even better at their jobs and continue to learn helps keep them motivated.

Reward behaviours that create the culture you want

It’s one thing to say that you’d like your team to be active in the tech community by presenting at conferences, participating in hackathons, and furthering their knowledge through ongoing learning and development – but do you give them the freedom to learn and share knowledge without repercussion? Rewarding behaviours that create a culture of continuous learning and collaboration is key. You should acknowledge the effort that goes into prepping for a meetup or event, and understand that time may be taken away from day to day tasks as a result. These knowledge and culture building activities are valuable, not just for the individual, but your company as a whole.

Another thing to note here is the working of reasonable hours. Engineers are smart people. If they see that the folks that are putting in extra hours are the ones getting rewarded through promotions and awards, then they are going to see that as the expectation. Working after hours every so often happens. There are unmovable deadlines and last minute projects that come up, but if working after hours becomes a constant occurrence, you might consider asking questions. Do you have enough people on the team? Do we have the right people on the team? Are you prioritising correctly?

The blameless post mortem

What happens when someone in the team makes a mistake? Is there finger pointing? Are folks scolded in front of their colleagues? Making mistakes are a key part of learning and development, and how those mistakes are managed reflects greatly on your internal culture. If developers don’t feel that they work in an environment where they feel safe to raise their mistakes, chances are they’ll start to hide them. This is why the blameless post mortem is key.

Understanding why a mistake was made without blame or judgement, and learning from the mistake as a team is how you build trust, foster a culture of collaboration, and ultimately retain one of your businesses’ most important assets; your developers.