The job market for software engineers is remarkable. Go ahead and Google something like “software engineer shortage,” and you will find plenty of articles trying to make sense of what is going on in the tech world. This Quora thread seems to agree on the lack of talented software engineers. Given the number of articles about hiring (here, here, or here), it looks as if indeed we, as an industry, haven’t figured out how to match ambitious projects with the right people.
As a result, startup founders, HR, agencies, and the like hunt engineers. All day long, in all timezones. And the member of your team that sits right next to you has probably received an offer lately. You hired him, you mentored him, and he is now an important part of the implicit knowledge behind the products. So now, what can you do to keep him committed to your company’s goals?
Why they leave
Let’s try to highlight the reasons that could make a developer leave.
I just had lunch with a CTO that tried to hire a senior backend engineer. He wants him to lead the scaling of a machine-learning platform and the team of a project that just raised 6 million euros. You guessed it; the first thing that came to my mind was “whoa, the market is awesome!”
There are so many startups and even freelance jobs that promote great projects. You can find a meaningful end to your work (boost education), something that appeals to your hobbies (upgrade how we listen to music), an incredibly challenging environment (monitor all the things), and so much more.
But your teamates might also be more pragmatic and just want to make progress in their lives: a better salary abroad, a different lifestyle, management responsibilities, and so on. There is a reason that fits every ambition, and we should probably agree that it is fair game, but we will get to that later.
The problem is right here
This point is the most important one to you. While any serious engineer should continuously challenge himself, this is even more important when others rely on you. One can choose to leave because he sees no future in his current position, or maybe he no longer finds interest in his day-to-day tasks, or feels a lack of esteem. Or is it the culture of the company? These are all red flags that need to be addressed quickly, and that’s what the next section of this blog post is about.
Why they stay
The culture is great
Let’s state something right now so we can focus on the interesting stuff. Yes, salary matters. Yes, 250k earnings a year in Silicon Valley makes a difference, but I fundamentally believe (from the engineers I have met, and not guesswork) that it is just a criterion. Most of the job offers we receive allow a comfortable life, so at the end of the day, we crave a great lifestyle. A place where we feel confident, that fits the work/life balance we need, and where we think we fit with comitted coworkers.
And it shows on the job boards. Startups try to attract high performers with human values like transparency, remote-friendly environments, nice offices, and anything it will take to make your magic thrive. Of course, it can be tricky. But in my humble opinion, you should try to let people get into their flow and expect the best from them.
They are challenged
Engineers like problems, so give them strong ones. They also love to learn, so always create challenges with different obstacles. And surround them with other brilliant minds that will bring new perspectives to their current understanding. It will also help them stay humble and improve if the job turns out to be too difficult. It takes a lot of attention to not have teamates bored by tasks that are too easy or by feeling like a failure because they are stuck.
So pay attention to their struggles during your morning stand-up, and make sure their highly paid and highly trained brains get what they deserve.
There is a mean
Finally, don’t blow your effort by not showing them how their solutions fit in the end product. Promote the why: the dent in the universe they made. They will feel (and be) valuable. They will also give the best of their skills when tackling the next issue. When you know you are building something customers want or people need, you commit to great work and even accept temporary compromises. Too many times, I saw features that didn’t make it to production because way too late the product owner came to realise it wouldn’t generate any value for the end user.
As a leader, make sure your team is working to grow the business, and make them stand out in front of your peers.
How to let it go
This is fair game
After all of those efforts, all the knowledge transmitted, all the sweat put in beautiful architectures, developers leave anyway. And sometimes, yes, it is just fair game. I mentioned a lot of excellent reasons for an engineer to move to another adventure, and your last move is this: do not hold a grudge against them. A company is just a company, and you can’t blame someone who puts first a personal passion or his significant other, or managed to catch a wonderful opportunity.
Keep in touch
Instead, do yourself a favor and be supportive. The ecosystem of talented people and great projects is not that big, so encourage your best coworkers in their evolution. Your future self will thank you when your solid networks of smart brains will help you in your own career. Open source trends show how much we share between techies, so start being someone other people will want to help back.
I apologize for ending with this obvious truth, but I have to: learn from everything that led you here. Take a step back and ask yourself if something went wrong. Nothing ? Maybe you can improve anyway. The hiring process? The on-boarding? Career evolution? One-to-one meetings? Time allocated to learn? Explore all those parameters, ask your peers, and experiment. Take care of your teammates’ progress, be transparent and helpful, and they will keep supporting you.
About the author
Xavier Bruhiereis a senior data engineer at Kpler. He is a curious and sharp entrepreneur and engineer who has built many projects, broken most of them, and launched and scaled what was left, learning from them all.