Developer retention: how to keep your software engineers happy

Peter Simic

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the technology industry has the highest turnover rates, and for software developers, it is approximately 57.3%.

With a turnover rate that high, it’s clear that developers are in high demand and that you need to find a way to ensure their satisfaction.

Sure, providing them with a good salary is a great starting point but keeping software engineers happy is a lot more complex than that. Therefore, if you want some tips on how to achieve this, keep reading.

Make sure they are a right fit for the role

The first step in keeping your software engineers happy is making sure they are the right fit for your company. After all, if they’re not, they won’t be happy in the job.

In order to do that, the first thing you should consider is your pain point (the problem you’re having, the reason you need a new hire). This will often depend on the development stage of your company.

For example, if your company is in the pre-seed stage, you’ll need an engineer that will be able to ship code as soon as it barely works. The best fit would be a full-stack developer with previous experience in startups.

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Furthermore, what is the scope of responsibilities of the position you’re offering? If it’s a high-responsibility role, a junior may not be equipped to handle it, so a senior developer might be more suited.

The next thing to pay attention to is finding a good culture fit. You can do this by screening potential candidates to see if their values, beliefs, and behaviors fit your company’s culture.

There is even a thread on Reddit where developers discuss the importance of being the right culture fit. You can see some of their opinions in the screenshots below.

Source: Reddit

For example, one of the developers commented that being a culture fit is of great importance; it determines who gets the job and who gets to keep it.

And in the following screenshot, you can see a comment from another developer who agrees with him, saying that he even got fired for not having “a software engineer personality.”

Source: Reddit

So the main takeaway here is that only a good role and culture fit can produce a happy developer. But that’s just the beginning.

Provide them with interesting, meaningful work

Developers love a challenge. They want to be creatively stimulated, not waste their time on repetitive tasks and boring projects. So, if you’re going to keep your developers happy, you’ll need to provide them with interesting and meaningful work.

If you don’t, they will become bored and start looking for other job opportunities, which is the last thing you want.

So try to keep in mind that developers love to learn new things. If we look at some statistics, we’ll discover that 68% of them stated that learning new things is the most important aspect of their job.

To further emphasize the importance of keeping the mind challenged, we’ve explored a thread on Reddit called “Why don’t devs stick around at the same job for long?”

As you can see from the images below, many developers quit their job due to the lack of learning opportunities.

Source: Reddit

The programming world evolves all the time, so it’s important to constantly provide your engineers with a chance to grow professionally. If you don’t, their skills will become outdated, which won’t make them happy.

Source: Reddit

Another thing that won’t make them happy is fixing other people’s code from legacy projects. Legacy code is a term used for a particular software that has considerable technical debt.

Technical debt results from replacing one software engineer with another. The new developer inherits the code and is not happy about it, as you can tell from the screenshot below.

Source: Reddit

And let’s explore some statistics to prove how common this issue really is. In one survey, only 20% of developers said that they rarely work on legacy code. And as you can see from the image below, the majority of developers really dislike working on legacy code.

Source: Netgen

Even worse, many developers would rather quit their job altogether than tackle their fellow developers’ poorly written code.

Source: Netgen

In fact, Stepsize, a firm that focuses on technical debt, did a small survey in which they’ve found out that 51% of developers have considered leaving or have left a job due to technical debt.

The best way to overcome this problem is quite simple: you need to constantly train your developers to write clean code.

Even Alex Omeyer, the CEO of Stepsize, recommends maintaining a healthy code base as the best way to manage technical debt.

“Given how much it costs to hire new engineers, companies need to keep their staff turnover as low as possible. And the best way to do that is to carefully manage technical debt to maintain a healthy codebase.”

Long story short, providing your developers with interesting, stimulating work and a chance to grow their skills will keep them happy. Repairing legacy code won’t.

Give them the best tools

Another thing to keep your engineers more efficient and more satisfied is providing them with high-quality tools. They will make it easier for them to learn, create, and simply do their job.

Making your developers work with ancient technologies is similar to working in a restaurant and washing the dishes by hand: in a word—frustrating. So make sure to constantly update the tools your developers are using.

Sometimes companies are afraid that new technologies will intimidate their developers since people are creatures of habit, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, developers love trying out the latest technologies and tools; and besides, even the best experts in the field need modern hardware and tools to produce quality products.

Let’s take web developers as an example; their job wouldn’t be nearly as fast and efficient without text editors such as Atom or Sublime Text. For a developer, finding a good text editor tool is similar to Thor finding his hammer, so, clearly, it’s very important.

Source: Sublime Text

And don’t forget to equip your developers with top-notch tools for automated bug testing. To be honest, fixing broken code is no picnic, and your developers face burnout looking for bugs in the code. What is more, it takes away their precious time from doing meaningful tasks.

To better demonstrate to what extent developers dislike fixing code, we’ve found a survey done by a software company called Rollbar.

In the survey, 26% of respondents said they would rather spend their time paying bills than fixing bugs, and 21% would rather see a dentist.

To save them a trip to the dentist, you can try our bug reporting tool, Shake.

Source: Shake

It automatically collects app timestamps to provide information on a bug that happened, along with the app version, logs, device, and much more, making bug reporting 50 times faster.

It will save time and allow your developers to focus on more important tasks, which will not only boost their productivity but also prevent them from quitting.

Recognize awesome code

Everyone loves compliments, and your developers are no different. They want to know that you are satisfied with their work and like to feel appreciated.

Believe it or not, praise is one of the most powerful ways to motivate your team. Employees that receive recognition for their excellent work are less likely to look for other job opportunities.

However, many developers often feel unappreciated. There are several threads on Reddit where developers complain about not receiving praise from their employers.

Source: Reddit

You don’t want your developers to bash you on Reddit. You want to create a positive company culture, so when one of your developers does something incredible, you should celebrate their work.

According to Forbes, employee recognition has many benefits. For example, 80% of employees feel more motivated if they are appreciated, and 71% of highly engaged employees work at places where they are recognized for their good work, at least on a monthly basis.

Furthermore, employees who receive praise are 31% more productive.

Source: Fond

So, providing positive feedback about well-written code is a must if you want to keep your software engineers happy.

A gamified way to give recognition and praise to your developers is through an app. For instance, Bonusly is a platform specialized in employee recognition where your employees can give out points to their coworkers.

The points can later be redeemed as cash rewards or donations to charities.

 Source: Bonusly

And everyone will be able to see where all of the good work is happening since these rewards will show up on the app’s feed.

But what are some other ways to show your developers that you appreciate their work besides giving them a pat on the back?

Well, for one, you can award them by giving them a day off or a performance bonus. Extra days off prevent employee burnout and increase productivity, so it’s a double win, but you can get more creative than that.

For example, in 2021, Google started its Play Media Experience program. They are giving higher sales cuts as a reward to the developers who take part in the program.

Source: TechRadar 

The goal is to make developers get their Android apps onto more devices such as smartwatches, tablets, TVs, and even cars. Also, in this way, developers can accelerate their overall growth on Google Play.

Source: Google Play

The bottom line is that employee recognition is a massive part of developer retention. It also increases productivity, enriches the company culture, and, therefore, keeps your software engineers happy.

Offer options for career development

We know that you want to keep your developers for as long as possible, but the reality is that no one wants to stay in the same place forever. People crave change and progress.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your favorite developers. There is a solution, and it’s to offer them options for career development.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, developers love to learn new things, and they are constantly evolving; it comes with the job. Programming proliferates, and professional growth is simply a must.

So if your developer wants to grow and needs a new challenge, offering career advancement is a great way to go about it. You should provide them with courses, books, and new tools to help them in their career path.

Unfortunately, many companies don’t offer career growth opportunities for their developers, and it’s no wonder that they seek better job opportunities where they’ll be able to make progress.

For instance, one developer started a thread on Reddit to complain that he’s never worked in a company that offered career advancement. It seems like he’ll be looking for a new job soon.

Source: Reddit

So, yes, developers need opportunities for professional development and growth, but what career paths can they take?

With so many options for a career change and various roles such as technical architect, software development team lead, web developer, java developer, PHP developer, etc., your software engineers might get confused, like the young programmer in the image below.

Source: Reddit

But let’s go back to the developer from the first image. He mentioned that he has 7+ years of experience. With that many years of experience, the position of lead developer or an architect might be a good option for him.

For instance, architects occupy the highest rank on the technical career ladder, and even though they sometimes write code, most of the time, they design complex systems for teams of senior and junior devs.

Architects use their technical knowledge to create a structure for a software project, so if one of your developers is getting bored with writing code, this might be the right path for them to take.

In conclusion, many developers are worried that their careers will reach a dead-end which is why you need to offer them career advancement opportunities. They won’t be happy if they stay in the same place for long.

Allow personal projects

If you want your developers to build a successful careers within your company, passion is an element that must never be overlooked.

The difference between an average and a great software engineer is that the average one lacks passion while a great one feels true passion for software development, both in and out of their workplace.

Furthermore, 78% of developers see coding not only as a job but also as a hobby, so they’ll often learn new languages or build applications in their spare time.

Source: Shake

However, the problem that many of those developers face is that some companies simply don’t allow personal projects.

Of course, you can’t allow your developers to engage in their hobbies at work, but there is a solution to keep both sides satisfied. What if we told you that you could benefit from their personal projects?

You can learn how to do this from Google’s example. In 2004 they started the “20% time” practice.

As the founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page described, they allow their developers to take one day a week to engage in additional projects that will benefit Google.

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

The 20% time practice has probably produced more success than they could ever imagine. In fact, many of Google’s iconic products started as side projects. Believe it or not, Gmail, Google Transit, Google Talk, Adsense, and Google News were all created using 20% time practice.

Source: Mashable on YouTube

Many companies follow Google’s example, like, for instance, DevSquad with their open Friday policy. Every Friday, their developers get to enhance their skills through personal projects.

“As long as the skills being gained contribute to work we are doing in other areas, the developers can devote that time to whatever they please, whether that’s contributing to open-source projects or building a personal product.”

So make sure to give your developers some freedom and watch them and your software blossom.

Conclusion

Good developers are hard to find. And even if you find them, there’s a chance they’ll be lured away by other recruiters.

After all, the majority of employed engineers are still open to new job opportunities.

That is why it’s so important to go the extra mile to keep them happy. With the advice we’ve provided for you in this article, you’ll be able to achieve just that.