Despite how they may be portrayed in popular culture, most software developers' careers are fairly straightforward and predictable. It's not always all-nighters in tiny rooms with empty take-out boxes, Red Bull, and coffee, cranking out code as fast as possible to be the first to market with a new product (and playing multiplayer games during their breaks).
The reality is most developers work in corporate settings with global team members. They are often responsible for a specific piece of a larger codebase or enterprise system. Even when working together to launch a new product or solve difficult technical challenges, the road is paved with routine tasks. They aren't superheroes, machines, or vampires — and it's all too easy for developers to get lost in the fray. In fact, nearly three-quarters (73%) of developers say they have experienced burnout at some point in their careers.
If you want your dev team to thrive — to be high-performing and innovative — you need to combat the boredom they face from mundane daily tasks and leadership pressure that leads to burnout and low morale. Combined, these causes can have a significant negative impact on creativity and productivity. Simply stated, the well-being of your developers should not take a back seat.
Employee development programs can create a nurturing environment where developers can thrive. Investing in and implementing these programs will have an outsized impact on morale and performance, ultimately benefiting both the individual and the organization. Let's explore three ways these programs can positively impact your dev teams.
#1: Offers Job Security via Learning
Learning is job security for a developer. If the five-year shelf-life for skills seems harsh, consider that developers are looking at only a three-year half-life. Why? Technology changes and evolves all the time. The canonical way of writing code changes quickly and without warning. For example, mobile developers had just become accustomed to building apps one way when both Apple and Google completely disrupted the process by releasing new, declarative frameworks for building UI.
Developers — curious knowledge-seekers by nature — understand better than those in many other professions the need to constantly be learning, so leaders need to provide developers with opportunities to keep their skills sharp. This simple act shows that the company recognizes developers' struggles and wants to invest in keeping them career-competitive. It also shows developers that the company values them enough to provide opportunities to progress inside the company, rather than having to take a new job to get ahead. Research shows that, at the two-year mark, an employee who has made an internal move is 75% more likely to stay with their company.
Because of the discipline's intense focus on technical skill, developers may be less mature in other, non-technical professional skills. Professional development programs can also help bridge this gap, creating opportunities for developers to hone other interpersonal and professional skills necessary for their advancement.
Investing in these skills has dual benefits. One, it improves team effectiveness by improving communication and collaboration skills. It shouldn't be underestimated how much this can contribute to morale. Effective, communicative, well-functioning teams create environments for happy and challenged employees. Two, it shows team members that the company cares not only about how many tickets they punch out, but also about helping them become well-rounded professionals.
#2: Offers Opportunities to Form Connections
Despite being billed as introverts, developers crave opportunities to come together, socialize, get to know their colleagues, and participate in shared experiences. They want authentic ways to engage with others that don't feel contrived.
Professional development programs give developers and dev teams a legitimate reason to come together, which is especially important when their work may have them feeling isolated, operating in a silo. They may be working on a multi-disciplinary squad where they are the only developer, or they might be working on a feature without much input from or interaction with other devs.
Learning experiences create space for socialization and idea exchange that developers may be lacking in their daily work. Learning and professional development courses also create strong bonds among team members by giving them shared experiences to draw from. These experiences create reference points that team members can return to and bond over. Professional development also gives developers and teams a sense of shared purpose. Think of it like an escape room: When team members come together to take on a challenge, it encourages them to work collaboratively toward a solution. It also affords them the opportunity to learn from the experiences of their colleagues and to view them as resources, reducing isolation and building trust.
#3: Offers a Competitive Advantage When Hiring
In an ideal world, you're offering developers the most competitive compensation and benefits package around. But, most likely, you're in the majority of companies that just can't offer it all. Professional development can be a way of filling these gaps and providing a competitive advantage during the recruitment, hiring, and retention process.
Recent research from LinkedIn found that the top two most important factors when considering a new job are opportunities for career growth within the company and opportunities to learn and develop new skills. For developers specifically, the types of offerings they want involve learning new programming languages and technologies (76%) and learning to use development tools more effectively (55%).
Some developers will be willing to forgo more lucrative compensation if they feel aligned with the company culture and are part of a team and an organization they believe in. Providing robust professional development gives them reason to believe. These programs can also inspire loyalty among the developer teams. Team members want to be in and stay in places where they feel valued.
Investing in Success
Professional development signals a strong level of investment on the part of the organization, and employees recognize it. It's a reason that people stay at great companies for a long time. They see that they will get a return in terms of what their company is putting into them.
Professional development programs have huge potential to bring out the best in your teams. The longest-lasting, most-successful organizations have known this for a long time, and it's one reason that they are sought after by employees.
The talent market may have cooled for developers, but they still possess one of the most in-demand skill sets. To attract and retain the developers you want and need, you must invest in their ongoing development. When you do, you'll see that it was well worth it — your teams work more effectively and efficiently together, you retain top talent, and you build an inspiring culture with loyal employees.
About the Author:
Eric Wilson is Training Practice Leader at Big Nerd Ranch (A Stellar Elements Company). Eric joined Big Nerd Ranch, which specializes in client app development and expert instruction from the brightest developers and designers in the industry, in the spring of 2019 to lead the training initiatives and brings a wealth of experience in both training and consultancy work. Eric has a passion for preparing people for what's ahead by equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. He leads the charge of leveraging Big Nerd Ranch's strong reputation to build the best training program available to engineers and designers.