Even in an era of unprecedented tech layoffs, most companies are still eager to find and retain top software developer talent. What’s more, many firms are discovering that they lack direct insight into their development teams’ needs and priorities. As a result, some of them are struggling to keep their developers happy and thus productive. A recent Zenhub report found, for the first time, a quantitative link between developer happiness and productivity, including what keeps developers in the same position instead of moving on to another job at the first sign of perceived trouble.
Software Development Happiness
The 2022 Software Developer Happiness report is based on a survey of 380 software professionals from a host of different organization types. In brief, the survey found that two of the biggest contributors to devs being unhappy in their roles were a lack of work/life balance and not working on what’s perceived as “quality work.”
Even with a looming recession and thousands of layoffs, there remains a dearth of senior software development talent. For more junior talent, there will be more available than in previous, pre-pandemic years. As companies strive to do more with less, they still require development teams to build their products and/or the applications that drive their business. Setting up more junior teams for success via collaboration and productivity tools will be key to navigating this new environment.
Given these findings, if organizations want to retain developer talent, they still need to make sure developers are working on meaningful projects and that they’re able to achieve that work in a way that balances the needs of the business with the needs of the individual.
An ideal example of this phenomenon is the developer tool ecosystem companies make available to their teams. While the growth of this ecosystem has been a net positive for developers, it has also created a lot of tool sprawl and significant integration challenges.
Less Time on Application Development
Stephen O’Grady, an analyst at RedMonk, an analyst firm focused explicitly on software developers, talked a lot about this through a term he coined called the “developer experience gap.” He is referring to developers spending more time integrating tools than working on application development or application code. That integration work comes at a real cost. It means developers are spending less time on application development, are having to work longer hours or do the integration work off the side of the desk.
The real bottom line to these survey results is that developers are happiest and stay at their jobs longer when empowered to focus on building code. This means spending less time interacting with management, attending meetings or resolving and integrating multiple solutions. The report’s results also emphasized the importance of work-life balance in encouraging developers to stay at their current job longer, while poor work-life balance accelerated the hunt for another job. These insights into developer retention are especially critical as, according to the report, 71% of developers haven’t decided how long they’ll stay with their current employer. The report also suggested that 33% of developers have stayed in a job longer than usual due to the pandemic, which could mean an increase in developer turnover when the pandemic comes to an end.
Another key finding is that collaboration challenges are viewed as the biggest impediment to developer productivity. Delays in feedback result in lost productivity; nearly 70% lose a minimum of three hours per week per developer and 75% spend at least an hour per week on reporting instead of writing code.
Finally, developers said their biggest priority is ensuring their software meets business demands, and most developers want high-performance productivity tools. In fact, 93% of developers believed these tools are critical to their success.
Increase Developer Happiness
So what can team leads to alleviate these issues? For both team leads and more senior management, the biggest way to increase developer happiness is simply to let them focus on coding. Developers like to showcase their skills, so encouraging them to work on interesting and impactful projects that challenge their skill sets is a great way to boost morale. Ensuring an appropriate work-life balance and paying the developers competitively are the other two recommendations for improving developer retention.
Additionally, senior management should take another look at how they are compensating their teams. Financial compensation will always be a critical element, but we should expect to see companies shift their focus to programs and benefits that their employees truly need. Particularly given the somewhat chaotic year in 2022 and continuing in 2023, those in the technology industry will shift to valuing organizational stability over just a paycheck. An improved focus on mental health, conflict resolution and work/life balance will also be a big part of attracting the appropriate talent to an organization.
The full report provides further detailed analyst recommendations for project managers, product owners, team leads and executives. The entire report can be downloaded for free here.