Tech Tuesday: Retaining Engineers

Last Tech Tuesday I wrote that the companies which do well on hiring engineers are the ones that “prioritize both hiring *and* having a great work environment.” The post went on to talk about some of the best practices in hiring. Today’s follow-up is about creating a great work environment for engineers.

There is obviously a lot that goes into creating a great work environment including overall company culture, office space, company mission etc. Instead of those more general points, here are some key dos and don’ts that are more specific to engineering

Dos

- Ship early and often - getting code into production is hugely motivating. In fact Etsy has new engineers deploy a small code change into production on their first day.

- Hold internal hack days - letting engineers work on something they really want to with some frequency will make it much easier to also get those fixes to the the backoffice systems done (or whatever else is the least exciting work in your specific case)

- Invest in training - engineers tend to want to improve their skills and knowledge so learning something new makes them both happy and also more productive (as does teaching so you can keep some of this in-house)

- Remove dependencies - this is not just about loose coupling from a technical perspective but also about having enough product management and design folks around so that engineering doesn’t have to do NOPs waiting for specs or layouts

Dont’s

- Treat engineering as order takers - engineers are not production machines or robots - they need to buy into the company’s mission and strategy and understand how what they are working on fits into that and be able to provide feedback

- Hang on to low performers - if someone is turning in sub par work again and again it becomes hugely demotivating to the rest of the team. Even if you feel resource constrained already it is better to let them go.

- Give star performers too much leeway - this one may be the hardest of all because it is easy to be afraid of pushing back for fear that someone might quit. But again if they take too many liberties eventually it becomes destructive for the cohesion and productivity of the team (I am sure someone with more familiarity with team sports could provide a great example here).

Like last Tuesday on hiring, I would love to hear from readers what Dos and Don’ts have worked well for you. And of course any and all comments on the ones that I listed above.

Posted: 30th April 2013Comments
Tags:  startups engineering retention tech tuesday

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