There are very good reasons why the role of software developer was named the “Best Job in America” this year. Not only do developers account for the most jobs created since the recession, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of developers to increase 30 percent in the next five years.
Developers are imitated (see Silicon Valley on HBO), celebrated and represent the heartbeat of any growing tech company.
As a developer myself, I know that finding developers has always been challenging for employers. But it’s never been more difficult than it is today. Like many technology organizations, this presents us with a challenge in hiring the best and brightest to come work for us.
The traditional formula for hiring and retaining talent involves a common set of variables. If your combination of all four variables is higher than your competitor, then you stand a better chance at winning the “war on talent.”
- Fulfilling work
- A positive work environment
- Opportunities to advance
- Fair and contemporary benefits
In the benefits department, this is where you’ll see a high degree of variation between one company and another. It’s also an area where our approach to attracting developers differs from the status quo.
It’s a common misconception that companies need to attract developers with sprawling campuses, office kegs, foosball tables, etc. It meets a common stereotype about developers that you need to be young (or act young) to stand up to the rigors of changing technology and keeping your skillset up to date.
I’d argue that these benefits aren’t as important to developers as the more “mature” capabilities that a company can offer. Here are three key benefits that score the most points with the developer crowd.
> Protect their time off
A common workplace approach is designed to keep employees comfortable and entertained day and night while they’re at work–but developers shouldn’t be chained to their computers or confined to a campus. Instead, companies need to truly encourage employees to unplug when they’re not at work.
There’s a perception of the “always on” technology employee, which is perpetuated with the growth of remote development and teams collaborating all over the world. But it’s one that we do not believe is sustainable or healthy. Developers should be encouraged to lead fulfilling lives outside of work. Providing them with real opportunities to do so is an important (and overlooked) benefit.
> Create an egalitarian culture
Innovation is hampered in cultures where there’s a hierarchical chain of command. In order for developers to realize their true potential, they need to be able to stretch their capabilities, try new ideas and challenge themselves at work. This is only possible when middle and senior leadership pulls (yes, CIOs included) its own weight.
There are no workers who handle only administrative tasks at the company–all team members assist on projects of all shapes and sizes. This leads to a more uniform understanding of roles and responsibilities. It also helps when a variety of different voices contribute to great ideas.
> Provide them with time to sharpen their skills
What can happen in some larger organizations is that developers spend all of their time on the one specialized skill that will eventually become obsolete. In many organizations, additional skill development might only occur on an employee’s personal time. When developers start having families and mortgages, that personal time can erode, severely stacking the deck against older developers.
Companies need to provide sabbaticals for developers to work on other things. They need a true opportunity to explore the latest upstream technologies. Not only does it help keep skills current, it can instill a new approach (SCRUM or agile development, for example) into their ongoing work.
Keeping talent happy isn’t about a 21st century campus or in-office gaming. It’s about giving developers a place to live their lives and grow–both personally as much as professionally. In technology, our industry is all about rapid innovation. But fostering a balance of work and life, while encouraging personal skill growth, are the benefits that will keep your talent around the longest.