Software developers know their skills are hard to find, and they know how much they are worth. Demand is through the roof and there aren’t enough developers to go around. At the same time, COVID has shifted their priorities. Many now seek workplaces that permit flexible hours, opportunities to work-from-home, and more. And they’re not afraid to jump ship in search of greener pastures.

If the Great Resignation has taught us anything, it’s that developers who are tired of workplace culture don’t stick around. Average tenure at some of the most prominent tech companies in the world is under two years, and when they leave, they often take valuable code, customer contact lists, patent applications and much more with them. For senior developers and team leaders, it’s a high price to pay when employees start sniffing around for other opportunities. 

Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce turnover, many of which aren’t complicated or time consuming. In today’s super competitive environment, one of the best ways to make your company a great place to work—and to keep developers happy—is pretty straightforward. Just back off. Trust them to do their jobs well.

This is key to building a supportive environment where developers feel comfortable voicing their ideas—particularly if those ideas are unpopular. Leaders have a responsibility to establish the kind of environment where values are reinforced, and to hire people who thrive within this framework. Even if that means they’re not always hiring the candidates who seem like an obvious fit.

Even Dumb Ideas Can Be Valuable

I know this because I have lots of dumb ideas. I’m thankful that, over the years, my colleagues have actively encouraged me to share those ideas. It taught me that I can build and foster a company culture where new ideas and new ways of thinking are valued, even if those ideas aren’t immediately well received.

Something that might seem like a dumb idea at the time, can actually evolve into something remarkable. By encouraging people to share their ideas, you can foster a sense of trust and innovation that leads to an explosion in creativity. It also makes your organization stronger by reducing employee stress—stress which ultimately leads to burnout and turnover.

Employees know they’ve long been perceived as replaceable cogs in the corporate structure, and not as unique individuals with valuable skills, and yes, shortcomings. So, fostering a culture that’s truly human and invites vulnerability has to be done with intent and deliberation.

People want to feel authenticity in where and how they work—that’s why it’s valuable to talk about new ideas (even dumb ones) to ultimately improve the company and its products. Fostering a supportive culture will likely lead to disagreements, but there are ways to offer opposing viewpoints without being a jackass. This mutual respect between developers allows your entire team to look at things through a critical lens without stepping on other people’s toes.

Here’s one example: at CodeSee, we do regular product reviews, which oftentimes lead to conversations where our developers say: “I really wish our product would do this instead.” Or “wouldn’t this be a cool feature to add?” This isn’t criticism leveled at anyone in particular, and everyone understands this. It’s a collaborative effort, with the aim of improving how our product works.

Take Steps to Sniff Out the Jerks in Your Applicant Pool

Some companies subscribe to the idea that if you’re a genius, it’s OK to treat people like garbage. We don’t. We’d rather have a decent developer who fits our culture and embodies self-reflection and humility, than a great developer who doesn’t support others. The same things we prioritize in our day-to-day operations are also reflected in hiring. There are easy-to-implement strategies to identify these qualities in potential new hires.

Two of our standard questions are simple and straightforward. We ask candidates to define three strengths and weaknesses. Three is a big enough number so that it requires introspection, and it helps us gauge if developers have already identified strategies for personal growth. The second question we like to ask is: “what will your previous managers say about you when we talk to them?”

These questions are meant to help us gauge whether or not the candidate has a pulse on self-reflection. If candidates can consider what it’s like to be one of their past managers, it shows a high level of self-awareness and empathy. And these are the people who tend to make it through our hiring process. 

Conversely, we’ve seen these questions absolutely sink some applicants. Some of them suddenly feel uncomfortable—I’ve actually been yelled at on more than one occasion. Can you imagine yelling at the person conducting your job interview? Yet it happens, and at that point, it’s game over.

Finding the Right Tools for Success

Providing the right tools is another way companies can foster a positive culture. Consider the responsibilities managed by today’s developers—especially those on teams who’ve implemented DevOps best practices. It’s not surprising that many are seeking tools to help them reduce time in tasks like project onboarding, feature planning, and code review; they’d rather focus on actual development.

Today developers spend over half of their time reading code. But what if we could cut that by just 20 percent? Or even 40 percent? If your software developers could spend 40 percent of their time doing other things, it would be truly transformative for business.

Of course, productivity tools can have drawbacks. Instead of giving more freedom and trust to developers, some organizations use technology to try to squeeze every last scrap of productivity out of them. If that’s the case, the underlying message your employees may hear is, “You’re getting a new, expensive tool because you aren’t being productive enough.” There’s no better way to push talented developers towards the exit.

Ultimately everyone needs developers, and they’ll be well compensated wherever they land. So, while some turnover is inevitable, a lot of it can be avoided if you’re intentional about crafting and maintaining a supportive work environment. And the creative energy you foster will help ignite product innovation.