9 ways to keep your developer team happy

It’s no secret that software developers are in demand. Even in uncertain economic times, organizations are eager to find and retain people who know how to code.

An important question for development team leaders, then, is what factors make developers happy on the job? Team leaders also need to know what doesn’t work. With plenty of options available, talented developers have little incentive to stay in a workplace that doesn’t measure up to their expectations.

Developer job satisfaction must be a priority for any company looking to create quality software. We asked developers and other industry experts what makes developers happy at work. Here’s what they had to say.

9 ways to keep developers happy on the job

  • Challenging projects
  • Flexible work environment
  • Work-life balance
  • Fair compensation and benefits
  • Feedback and recognition
  • Innovative and meaningful projects
  • Collaborative environment
  • Let them use tools they like
  • Effective and sensible development process

Challenging projects

Developers like a good challenge. They don’t want to take on tasks that fail to get them fired up. A great way to keep developers happy is to give them opportunities to use their skills and experiences to solve complex problems.

“It’s crucial to provide developers with challenging and interesting projects to work on,” says Shanal Aggarwal, chief commercial officer at IT distributor TechAhead. “Developers do best when continuously pushed to the edge of their abilities. For example, it might be quite fulfilling to involve them in cutting-edge AI [artificial intelligence] solutions or mobile app development.”

Developers “tend to find happiness in projects that are intellectually stimulating and require them to use their skills and creativity to solve complex problems,” says Alex James, a developer at Boost My Class, a provider of online educational services.

“Engaging, challenging work keeps them motivated and satisfied,” James says. “Also, they are happy when they have a good team lead who helps the team in every aspect of work and encourages them to enlarge their skills. They feel motivated around those team leads, and as a result, they produce good work.”

Developers do best while working on thought-provoking projects, adds Azzam Sheikh, digital strategist at Carifex, an online provider of auto parts.

“It can be very fulfilling to develop cutting-edge fintech solutions or improve trade algorithms,” he says.

Working on projects that present interesting challenges and have a positive impact “can bring joy and satisfaction,” says back-end developer Bernardo Castro. “It keeps us engaged and motivated to find creative solutions. For example, developing an application that improves healthcare accessibility or solves complex algorithmic problems can be fulfilling.”

Flexible work environment

Flexibility is considered table stakes in many recruiting discussions today. Organizations in most industries have found that they need to be open to the idea of letting employees work remotely or with flexible hours.

“Programmers want to have autonomy over their work and the flexibility to work how and when they are most productive,” says Grace White, head of design and development at web development firm Lilo. “A programmer might be happy working for a company that allows them to work from home or set their own hours. They might also be happy working for a company that gives them the freedom to choose the projects they work on.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in many professions, including software development, are accustomed to being able to work from home or another remote location for at least some days. They’ve also become used to working on a schedule that matches their lifestyle.

“Developers value adaptability in their working environments,” Aggarwal says. “Providing flexible work hours or remote work opportunities might improve employee happiness.”

Many developers are introverts and independent professionals who prefer to work remotely, says Robert Kaskel, chief people officer at Checkr, a provider of a cloud-based background-checking service. “Flexible work arrangements allow people to choose how they work best, which is especially great for developers who face high pressure to perform and maintain steady outputs.”

Work-life balance

Related to a flexible work environment is work-life balance. Many developers are accustomed to long work hours that cut into personal time, which can lead to a host of issues, including increased stress.

“While we all need a certain amount of stress to spur us on and help us perform at our best, the key to managing stress lies in that one magic word: balance,” notes Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of mental health, well-being, and illness prevention.

“Not only is achieving a healthy work/life balance an attainable goal but workers and businesses alike see the rewards,” the organization says. “When workers are balanced and happy, they are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more likely to stay in their jobs.”

Many technology companies give developers a heavy workload that only gets heavier around crunch time, Kaskel says. “Of course, too much work leads to burnout and disengagement over time. When developers find a company with realistic expectations of team outputs, developers don’t have to work long overtime hours.”

“The balance between work and family brings me happiness,” says Viktoria Dolzhenko, developer team lead at Bitcoin provider Itez. “Previously, I could work 16 hours a day, which over time had a destructive effect on my mental health. Now I enjoy being more mindful in my approach to work. The ability to work remotely helps a lot with this. I have complete control over my time.”

Fair compensation and benefits

Needless to say, fair compensation and benefits are high on the list of factors contributing to job satisfaction. Because demand for developers is high, recruiting managers and IT executives must be willing to pay generously for talent.

As job site Indeed points out, “practically every industry needs its own type of software and people who can create it to their specifications. As the world becomes increasingly digital and operated online, the need for software developers is likely to rise even further.”

“Programmers want to be compensated fairly for their work and have access to good benefits,” says White. A fair salary and good benefits—such as health insurance, retirement savings plans, and paid time off—can go a long way toward sustaining developer job satisfaction.

Feedback and recognition

Good feedback is important in any type of job, and software development is no different. Programmers want to know how they are doing and what they could do to improve. Developers also want to know whether the products they create are beneficial to users and profitable for their companies.

An important part of feedback is recognition. This can be informal, such as a team leader paying a compliment for a successful project, or formal, such as a reward or perk for work well done. Public recognition among peers is also important.

“Regular recognition and constructive feedback for their contributions are essential for a developer’s happiness,” James says. “Feeling appreciated and acknowledged for their hard work and expertise can significantly boost job satisfaction.”

Rewarding exceptional work and offering just compensation are two ways to greatly improve morale, Sheikh says. “Developers value promotions, bonuses, and recognition for their efforts,” he says.

Innovative and meaningful projects

Developers want to work on projects that push the edge of innovation, such as software that leverages AI and machine learning capabilities. They also want to build products that make a difference. Knowing that their organization stands out in the market is a source of pride and satisfaction.

Developers “feel happy when they are allowed to work on innovative solutions,” says Vinika Garg, COO of Webomaze, an SEO agency. “Just encourage them to develop a new feature for instance. Developers looking for aligned projects with their career aspiration is another factor for their happiness.”

For example, Garg says, a developer might aspire to specialize in UX, or user experience design. “So, projects like creating user-friendly interfaces and improving overall user satisfaction will make them happy,” she says.

The opportunity to work with the latest technologies and tools is a significant morale booster for developers says Mitesh Mangaonkar, technical lead for software engineering at Airbnb.

“It’s not just about staying relevant; it’s about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” Mangaonkar says. “For instance, implementing advanced AI models to detect fraudulent activities provides a stimulating challenge that keeps the work exciting.”

Knowing that their work makes a difference is a huge motivator for developers, Mangaonkar says. “Whether it’s improving the safety of the platform or enhancing user experience, the direct impact of their work on millions of users worldwide provides a powerful sense of purpose.”

Collaborative environment

While some developers are perfectly happy working on their own to complete projects, others thrive in a collaborative environment where they can share experiences and best practices with other developers.

Programmers want to work with other talented engineers and collaborate on interesting projects, White says. “They also want to feel like they are part of a supportive community,” she says.

By its nature software development is a collaborative initiative, involving programmers, testers, cybersecurity experts, and others. “A culture of cooperation and support among the team is crucial,” Sheikh says. “Developers frequently take pleasure in exchanging ideas, working together to solve problems, and witnessing respect between coworkers.”

“Working with people you can trust to meet deadlines or solve complex problems efficiently and quickly is very rewarding,” says Patricio MacAdden, a programmer and one of the founders of software development provider Sinaptia. “Being able to trust a team definitively makes a programmer happy.”

Having a supportive team, good communication, and collaboration opportunities can create a positive work atmosphere, Castro says. “When there is a shared sense of purpose, trust and respect among colleagues, it fosters a sense of belonging and enjoyment in the work,” he says. “For instance, having regular code reviews or brainstorming sessions can lead to better outcomes and a happier team.”

Let them use tools they like

When it comes to development tools, programmers have their favorites. Letting developers use the tools they are familiar with is important to completing projects well and on time.

“From programming languages to frameworks and libraries, being able to choose makes us happy,” MacAdden says. “There are some scenarios where one can’t choose their stack, and in those cases, one might feel unhappy over time. But being able to choose our tools is key to being happy in the long run.”

MacAdden has been working on a project for at least eight years, and has been using the same tools, including web application framework Ruby on Rails. “I’ve been working with Rails for at least 13 years,” he says.

“I have cultivated a deep knowledge and unwavering passion for CMS tools, including Magento, WordPress, and Shopify,” White says.

Effective and sensible development process

Regardless of which methodology is in place for software development, the process has to support developers functioning in the most effective ways possible. It must make sense to the developers who are doing the heavy lifting to create end products.

Paul Bissex, an independent senior software engineer who focuses on web applications written in Python, says that a development process that includes “structured time for the team to reflect on recent work and tune their process accordingly” increases developer job satisfaction. 

“This often takes the form of a ‘sprint retrospective’”, Bissex says. “In the case of a production incident, the reflection happens in a ‘blameless postmortem,’ where root causes of the incident are found and addressed.”

Bissex also notes that clarity is essential. It is satisfying to developers when job tickets in the queue are refined by the team to contain all the information necessary to do the work, including criteria for what constitutes a complete project.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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