Attracting, retaining and motivating software developers was the topic of discussion at our Leaders Lunch for this April. ProFocus team members Madeline Kenney, Aubrey McCauley, Madison Campbell and Shelby Danzer joined a small group of other women in the tech sector for a roundtable discussion at Portland City Grill.

Below, we’ve summarized some of the valuable advice, best practices, and experiences shared during the one-hour discussion:

Challenges

1. How to adequately assess and meet salary expectations of developers.

The ProFocus team at our Portland Women in Software Development Leaders Lunch.

2. Distinguishing between talent on paper and talent in practice.

3. How to evaluate developers with non-traditional academic backgrounds.

4. Personal Projects – a tool for motivation or a misrepresentation of technical understanding?

5. Retaining employees with limited resources for salary increases or promotion opportunities.

6. Building teams that: integrate contractors and involve management.

Opportunities

1. Understand that it is not necessarily the years of experience that make a developer’s salary. Compensation should be built based on the employee’s curiosity, growth potential and individual needs. In the Portland area, managers need to build their comp package with cost of living, transportation, career development and work culture in mind. Although many devs come with a high price tag, transparency in the hiring process and flexibility with compensation can help address the true needs of the potential employee.

2. As many programs in the Northwest are working hard to keep up with the demand for tech professionals, managers are trying to distinguish the skill level and understanding of Code School grads. White board demos, take-home assignments and team involvement help these managers better assess talent. Team leads and even VP’s have stepped up to engage with interviewees and provide insight to the hiring managers.

3. Building a diverse and inclusive team often means seeking out talent that doesn’t check all the traditional boxes. In the local tech sector, many people come from different backgrounds and educations. Asking to see examples of work beyond school and work projects often helps managers better understand a developer’s skill set.

Building a diverse and inclusive team often means seeking out talent that doesn’t check all the traditional boxes.

4. Personal projects can be a great tool for assessing an individual’s curiosity and motivation. However, some managers claim that personal projects leave too much room for error and do not go in-depth enough to validate the person’s capabilities. When it comes to retention, projects can be used as an engagement tool. An example of this is allowing employees to work on whatever project they want for half the day on Fridays.

5. Advice for retaining developers? Don’t try the same thing for everyone on your team. Some are money motivated, others want a title changes and some are eager for opportunities to learn and share their work at conferences or events. Rotating opportunities to work on certain parts of a project can keep the team engaged and allows the team to take ownership for the overall success. Other opportunities to make decisions like voting on a weekly team lunch spot can benefit individual morale.

6. Building and maintaining a team takes consistent effort. Teams need opportunities to see each other as human, they need the tools and language to communicate business efforts and they need transparency short term and long term. Management or executives should make it clear in onboarding of developers and other managers how they contribute to the bottom line of a project or company. This visibility can be important in the fickle tech world. 

This discussion really captured how difficult it can be to use a cookie-cutter model for attracting, retaining and motivating software developers. Each team must be built differently with dynamic characters, “not every manager should build a team of rock stars, they need rocks too.”

Recommended Resources

Want to learn more? Here’s some of the resources recommended by our attendees for further reading and viewing.