Top 7 strategies to retain software developers

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With the digital skills shortage showing little sign of improvement, many companies are still having problems attracting software developers. But that’s only half the battle. Once they are in the door you then have to find innovative ways to hold on to them.

As IT teams scramble to keep up with the pace of change in tech, many are ending up significantly understaffed with low morale and productivity. So hiring managers are now under more pressure than ever to attract and retain the right people.

As an IT recruitment agency, we have extensive experience in helping companies hire and retain elite software developers. From our third-party perspective we have noticed a few interesting trends over the years. Some strategies and approaches clearly work better than others.

Here are our top five strategies to retain your best software developers.

  • Understand the Market

This is more than just understanding which perks and opportunities your competition offers allows you to see how your company compares regarding pay, benefits, and culture (and how to make changes if necessary). This is about understanding what is making developers tick right now.

What hot technology is being torn to pieces? What’s the latest kubernetes discussion? When jobs become more competitive and less distinguishable in terms of monetary rewards, those who build the best relationships with developers will be the ones who keep the best talent.

While focusing on your industry competitors should be your main priority, you should also ensure your company is compensating your software developers appropriately for your location. Software developers hear about multiple opportunities each week and may be tempted to jump ship if they learn of a similar job that pays much better.

  • It’s Not All About the Salary

While working with the latest and greatest technologies is important to software developers, companies should also look into offering software developers other perks like remote work or the option of working non-standard hours. Developers want to balance work with family and other interests, and they highly value the flexibility to do so.

While there are plenty of other perks your company could offer, the best way to find out what is important to your software developers is to simply ask. TEKsystems’ research shows this will help your company both retain developers and help save it money.

In one such Venturi’s Voice episode, Andy Davis talks to Usman Hamid, Head of IT infrastructure services at the BBC. On the show, they discuss how companies can use innovative ways to retain staff.

  • Start thinking about retention when recruiting

Before beginning your next recruitment drive, think carefully about the kind of culture and strategy you want to emphasise. Often, it’s helpful to reinforce these points by writing them down on paper. You can then screen all candidates in accordance with the same set of specific qualities.

Speaking on our podcast, Thiago Carvalho, Senior Engineering Manager at Wayfair, said “you should focus on employing promising candidates who come to the table with the right motivations, not just a desire for a big paycheck,” Once they’re in, you need to demonstrate your own sincerity by working to build mutual trust and loyalty.

Start by fostering a sense of community in the office that developers want to be a part of. It’s no good talking the talk about ‘flexibility’ or ‘open and direct communication’ if existing management styles don’t reflect those values at all. It’s easy to see through and understandably annoys employees. Make sure both developers and management share the same vision on company culture.

In instances where developers do choose to leave your company, use the situation as a learning opportunity. Extract as much feedback as you can about their motivations and reasons for leaving. Equipped with this information, you can then go back and adapt your strategy accordingly.

  • Find out if they’re happy

It’s a cliché worth repeating: happiness isn’t all about money. In fact, for the right role and challenge, a lot of developers will even switch roles and take a pay cut. So relying on a lucrative compensation package to keep hold of your best developers is a poor business decision.

The problem is most unhappy developers won’t broadcast how they are feeling out of fear of repercussion. This is an unavoidable part of human nature. Therefore it’s a good idea to have an anonymous suggestion box to find out if your staff are unhappy long before they decide to leave. This will give you an opportunity to address the issues immediately to try and hold on to them.

Referrals are another helpful indicator of employee happiness. Generally, when software developers are happy, they’ll recommend their workplace to friends and acquaintances in their professional network. If you get receive little to no referrals from your development team, it’s time to start asking yourself why.

  • HR and Management need to understand software development

Even though it’s 2018, some companies still seem to completely misunderstand the fundamentals of software development. Even though there’s a skills shortage, you can afford to mimic hiring and management practices implemented for staff in other departments such as admin or marketing.

Most development teams are made up of a diverse group of individuals that are both creative and logical, and oftentimes highly opinionated. Managing such a team is a tricky as it demands an approach which is simultaneously organised and adaptable. Attempting to micro-manage software development is a recipe for disaster.

If you trust people enough to hire them, you should continue showing that trust once they start working for you. Failure is an inevitable part of software development, so developers need to feel safe and supported by the rest of the team and the organisation as a whole.

In our experience, successful software development teams succeed together and fail together, without a culture of blame. This was highlighted in one of our previous blog posts by Ruban Siva, Senior Software Developer at HSBC. He outlined his strategy for dealing with problems and failures as they arise.

“A good way to clear the air is to have regular team meetings where team members can raise issues with the aim of constructively resolving them without any finger pointing,” he said.   

  • Create a path for career progression and opportunities for learning

Developing a clear to progression starts with promoting from within whenever possible. This will help build a sense of value among staff who feel like they are playing a vital role in the company’s success.

At the same time, provide opportunities for employees to continue to learn and develop. This can come in the form of tuition reimbursement and technology-related workshops. Doing so will help your development team members feel valued, important, and personally invested in your company.

Continual learning is always at the core of strong organisations. So whenever an opportunity presents itself, try to integrate learning into every project to encourage developers to make continual learning and growth one of their priorities.

In an age of fierce competition, opportunities to learn can be the differentiator that helps you retain top talent. This approach also creates opportunities for developers to stay top of the latest trends, stay engaged, stay invested in your business, and work towards their next promotion.

  • Put your data to work

Big data is everywhere from sports to healthcare, so why not use it internally to your advantage?

Most businesses now generate an enormous amount of employee data. With software suites such as IMB Kenexa or TrenData it’s now possible to analyse that data to determine who is likely to leave and who is likely to stay. This allows companies to take preventative action to encourage them to stay.

Analytics shed light on subtle factors that are usually overlooked. For example, you might find that developers who work more than 15 hours overtime each week are most likely to leave. In that case it would make sense to keep a close eye on the number of additional hours each of your developers does each week.

Alternatively, you might find that developers working far away from their friends and family are more likely to leave to be closer with their loved ones. In this scenario, you could address this issue by relaxing your holiday policy or by offering remote working options in order to retain their services.

Through artificial intelligence and machine learning, companies are now able to rapidly identify and address these issues before they lead to attrition and high turnover. When you get this right it becomes much harder for your competitors to poach your top developers with a better financial offer.