Hiring and retaining talented developers, engineers, data scientists, and other technologists has never been easy. But it’s fair to say that the shift to remote work in 2020 and hybrid work in 2021 created new challenges and opportunities for technology leaders.
Executives, managers, and team leaders must seek productive and happy developers while releasing software, deploying machine learning, migrating to the cloud, and delivering on other business priorities.
The trend to support more flexible working environments will continue through 2022, so I sought advice from industry leaders on their best practices on hiring and retaining technologists.
I recently spoke with Jay Steinfeld, the former CEO of Blinds.com and author of From the Core: The 4 Principles for Profit and Prosperity. Steinfeld shares the principles he used to create a winning culture at Blinds.com: “People think that there’s some new dynamic, and there is because people have the option and the ease of going elsewhere.
"But business really hasn’t changed that much. It’s still about making sure that people are given respect, personal development, the opportunity to grow, teaching them how to elevate themselves, and having candid communication with them.”
Retaining developers requires communication and trust
Today, executives understand the strategic importance of hiring and retaining talented employees, and 58 per cent say that closing skill gaps in their companies’ workforces has become a higher priority since the pandemic began.
Sabry Tozin, vice president of productivity engineering at LinkedIn, says that although most companies require talented technologists, the strategies and tactics must be tailored to the team and individual needs.
“There’s no exact formula, and organisations shouldn’t try to simply replicate one another because every individual and every team works differently.” Tozin recommends that “leaders must be willing to test various strategies, trust that their employees will do their best work where it works for them, remain open to employee feedback, and iterate constantly.“
Tozin’s colleague Jared Green, vice president of engineering and head of developer productivity and happiness at LinkedIn, says that technology leaders must focus on communication when trying to determine whether employees are happy.
He says, “Employee insights will be critical in a hybrid world. The ability to evaluate an employee’s satisfaction and take steps to make their life better is a powerful tool, especially in a hybrid workplace where communication is innately disjointed.”
Green then provides this sound advice. “Leaders aren’t mind readers, and they need the tools to identify and understand when and why developers aren’t happy. By collecting these insights, managers can ask the right questions, understand what’s not working, and help employees feel fulfilled and capable of doing their best work.”
Mel Kaulfuss, senior developer advocate at Buildkite, agrees that focusing on communication is critical to support hybrid working.
She says, “Open and honest communication and true psychological safety are the foundations for solid working relationships in any setting. Disconnection results from a perceived lack of power and agency, and with remote teams, it is the beginning of the end — in short, it is when people leave.”
Kaulfuss continues with this advice, “Hybrid can work, but if companies don’t have regular check-ins to discover what’s working and what’s not, they’ll never maintain engagement, keep communication flowing, and prevent disconnection and developers from exploring their options.”
Technology leaders must step up with their communications and one-on-one dialogues to improve retention. Additional strategies are needed for recruiting and hiring top developers and technologists.
Hiring requires a commitment to diversity
When hiring, all leaders should seek diversity because it expands the talent pool, fosters a culture of openness, and drives innovation.
“Diversity has to come from the top down, and it should be part of your culture,” says Mayank Mishra, vice president of engineering at Contentstack.“ He recommends that “as a leader, you have to be intentional about diversity and make it part of your core values. Only then can you have diversity in your talent pipeline, as well as in all areas of your business.”
Amanda Richardson, CEO of CoderPad, agrees and provides an important example of where technology leaders can seek diversity.
She says, “A number of women in tech are just on the sidelines now and not compelled to come back full time. Do all these jobs need to be full-time, 50 hours a week? What about three 20-hour-a-week hires? Make the logistics more appealing, and you’ll find more options for great candidates.”
A commitment to diversity goes beyond hiring practices. Some recommendations on what technology leaders and managers can do to reimagine agility with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) include updating training, reviewing hiring practices, and discussing DE&I during retrospectives.
Work-life balance is key to hiring and retaining
The pandemic taught many employees, especially technologists who elected to work long hours pre-pandemic, the importance of work-life balance. Balance goes well beyond policies from the human resources department. It requires leaders and managers to follow through with individuals, especially in hybrid working environments.
Jeffrey Spector, co-founder and president at Karat, says it’s up to technology leaders and managers to reverse retention trends.
He says, “Two years ago, the average developer spent four years at a company. Today, it’s even shorter and the options workers have with remote work will only continue to grow. We’re witnessing Moore’s Law, but for the number of jobs people will hold over their lifetime, and we expect to see that trend accelerate in the coming years.”
How can technology leaders improve work-life balance? One of Steinfeld’s four principles is “enjoy the ride,” which he first wrote about several years ago and expands on in his book. He suggests that finding balance requires “helping people become better, evolving and experimenting without fear, and people having a voice and having fun.”
Learning and training drive hiring and retention
Technologists want the freedom to experiment, and leaders must support employees to pursue passions useful for their professional development that also have potential to deliver business impact.
Another area to support is learning and training because technologies change rapidly, and it’s unlikely that new hires will come into the organisation with all the targeted skill sets. Richardson recommends that hiring managers “find people with raw talent and offer on-the-job training.” The approach ensures a wider talent pool and a commitment to employees to help them grow their skills.
When you review these recommendations, it becomes clear that the best practices for hiring and retaining talented developers haven’t changed dramatically. We must constantly communicate, hire for diversity, promote work-life balance, and retain top talent by enabling a culture of learning and experimenting.
What’s changed is that when employees aren’t happy or don’t see their leaders follow through on commitments, they are more likely to leave for new opportunities rather than stick things out. Hiring and retention in a hybrid world require more active programs from technology leaders to follow through on these best practices, promote happiness, and support employees with individually tailored programs.