Happy employees are productive employees and happy developers can be game-changer employees.
If keeping your employees happy contributes to the well-being of your company, keeping your developers happy can make a world of difference for your business. Indeed, engineers are responsible for creating the software your company either depends on for operations or sells as a product. In any case, without software engineers, you're stuck. So making sure your engineer's crew is in the right state of mind is far from being an anecdotal question, but it is a fundamental point in making your business work.
Feelings are often linked to a situation or, more precisely, to a representation of a situation, leading to many questions. In a recent article,Leo Benkel, Founder ofPURE LAMBDA, built upthe ultimate entrepreneurs' guide to mastering emotions,giving practical answers. This guide is highly applicable to our question of the day "How to make your developer happy".
Let's explore in this article how to understand and embrace the feelings of your engineers to ensure your company's success.
Engineers are creative people. As the CEO or CTO, your objective is to give them something interesting, and challenging, not too hard (so they stay motivated), but not too easy (so they are not bored). It is a fine line, but if you nail it, you will manage to bring your tech team to the "Flow".
As detailed in another ofPURE LAMBDA's articles, the "Flow" is a state where time seems to stop while simultaneously speeding up. Hours can feel like seconds in the flow state. It feels like you have accomplished days of work in mere hours, but at the same time, those hours felt like seconds. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined this concept "Flow", described it as follows: "Flow is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it." In this state, your mind is over-performing. Time slows down, you are more focused, and you can accomplish more. You are immune to minor distractions.
This state of mind is directly connected to a warm feeling offulfillment.
Feelingrecognizedis usually very important for engineers as they are sometimes under-recognized. You have this culture of "Employee of the month" in many companies, especially in the US. It is based on a peer-to-peer voting system, and for some reason, salespeople are much more active in voting for their friends than engineers are. So most of the time, salespeople win this "Employee of the month" contest.
Furthermore, the prize associated with this award is usually money. Engineers, especially in Silicon Valley, do not have to care too much about money because of the high compensation. What matters to them is being proud of their work and feel appreciated at the right moment, not too late but also not too early.
Fostering an environment where everybody feels respected for their work is linked to the quick hacks you can implement to guarantee a healthy company culture. Leo Benkel explored this topic as well in arecent article. When your employees or team know they are valued and cared for, they will be more eager to deliver their best. In an environment with low stress and toxicity, your team will work not just more effectively but willingly and happily.
As a CEO, it is important that you make clear to your employees, and especially to your engineers, how, when, and under what conditions they can grow in their jobs. Growing up in a company does not mean an engineer to change jobs; it just means giving them more responsibilities or letting them have more impact on the decision-making process.
Having that in mind, the excellent reflex is always to promote internally rather than hiring externally, even if it is an entirely new role. An engineer within your team may be capable of embracing such a role and exploring new skills. That is also part of healthy company culture.
It would be best if you asked your engineers what they want to do rather than imposing it. An engineer's job in one company is just a step in their career in an ocean of possibilities. Usually, in a traditional engineering career, there are two ways to grow:
- Either, becoming an expert in your domain, which we call the "tech path" that leads to technical expertise, software architect, or technical leads;
- Or, managing other engineers, which we call the "management path" leads to engineering management, director of engineering, or even CTO.
Because an engineer is creative, it is usually a profile constantly seeking new knowledge. To keep your engineer crew happy, consider the learning possibilities you can use. Learning can be cost-free by leveraging the expertise internally:
- lunch and learn for your developers;
- free time to build experiments/POC;
- code pairing to help junior developers grow;
- mentoring sessions...
Acquiring new knowledge and overcoming new challenges isexciting.
As an engineer or a developer, when you write code, you want to know what works and what does not. Being in a grey zone is the worst environment for an engineer. As a startup executive:
- Prioritize building for your engineering team an infrastructure that allows fast-paced development based on trustworthy and fast tests.
- Provide them with an architecture diagram of the system so your devs are not lost.
- Foster quick code reviews, so the team can save time when pushing code.
- Allow running locally to accelerate the development.
- Develop a culture where everybody can give constructive criticism.
- Systematize a testing environment for your product, reducing the stress of the teams when pushing code to production.
- Document failures and write post-mortem to avoid them in the future. Encourage your employees to be risk-takers without punishment.
For instance, Netflix invented in 2011 a tool called "Chaos Monkey", built to test the resilience of its IT infrastructure.
It works by intentionally disabling servers in Netflix's production network to test how the remaining systems respond to the outage. Chaos Monkey is now part of a more extensive suite of tools called the Simian Army, designed to simulate and test responses to various system failures and edge cases.
Overall, foster apeacefuland stress-free work environment.
If you want your business to be effective and thrive, you need to bring all the departments of your company together. Marketing needs to interact with Sales; Sales need to interact with the Developers, etc... Never let the salespeople stay between them and the dev people between them.
Foster an open environment, so each team member has the capacity and the space to understand each other, or at least to talk and exchange. As a CEO, you can, for instance, build "retrospective meetings", which are structured sessions that give teams time to reflect on a completed project or agile sprint. It allows a team and individuals to highlight the successes and failures of a project, identify areas that need improvement, and reflect on the project as a whole.
On an individual level, as a manager or a CEO, you want to put in place 1:1 meetings at least twice a month. This allows you to spend time with each of your team members to go through what is working and what is not, their career plans, the training opportunities, their desire to contribute to Open Source projects, etc... It will give a safe space to your employee torelieftheir stress and frustrations.
To sum up, keeping your developers happy is not a magic recipe. Many companies experienced low productivity gains despite implementing productivity systems and models because the management team ignored the most critical factors: communication and horizontal management. Your developers will thrive in an open communication environment where the managers are full members of the teams rather than just someone checking if task A or B is done.