Human-resource professionals and IT managers may look at high training costs for software developers as a necessary evil—or as a regrettable but unavoidable cost of doing business. Given that 40 percent of developers leave their jobs within the first 12 months, such an attitude is understandable. When training a new software developer costs six to nine month’s salary, and yet nearly half will be gone in the proverbial blink of an eye, it must at times seem like a fruitless endeavor.
But this attitude is short-sighted. A 40-percent failure rate in retention means there’s tremendous room for improvement, and companies that find a way to beat that percentage can quickly gain an advantage over the competition. Better developer-retention strategies will bring a greater return on your training and development investments, and they’ll help you create a more harmonious workplace culture that attracts top developers and other prized tech personnel.
Software Developers Speak—and You’d Be Wise to Listen
As preparation for our 2017 Developer Learning Survey Report, we interviewed more than 800 software developers working for influential and respected tech employers. We were interested in finding out what attracted them to certain workplace environments and what made them anxious to escape from others. What we discovered was most enlightening. On the basis of our findings, here are some training initiatives that IT and HR departments should strongly consider adopting.
1. Offer training seminars and short courses regularly. Many of the software developers we spoke to expressed frustration over the apparent unwillingness of their employers to keep them up to date on the latest technological developments. On average they were spending seven hours a week of their own time educating themselves about industry trends—a necessary sacrifice because their companies were offering few if any organized training sessions.
Although their motivation to do their own research was strong, few expressed a willingness to continue such practices indefinitely. Companies that offer monthly or bimonthly training sessions to cover new and important topics are likely to gain an edge on the competition, and the extra expense should be offset by more-impressive retention rates and improved on-the-job performance from developers, who will be better prepared for rapid innovation.
2. Let software developers expand their knowledge of the software industry as a whole. Almost to a person, the software developers we interviewed expressed a desire to learn about other areas of the software industry, specifically those related to software engineering. The topics they mentioned included software architecture, design patterns, secure coding and high scalability.
Many software developers dream about someday moving into software engineering, and companies that respect and help facilitate those wishes will be rewarded with more-loyal and more-enthusiastic employees. As a side benefit, they’ll also be creating an internal pool of qualified candidates for when they’re looking to hire more software engineers.
3. Provide more-targeted instruction in programming languages and databases. Too often companies take it for granted that software developers are up to speed on familiar topics. But in a complex field where innovation occurs daily, nothing should be taken for granted.
Software developers are anxious to learn more about new programming languages such as Go and Swift, but they’re just as anxious to boost their knowledge of Java and other familiar languages. These subjects are complex and there’s always more to learn, as developers well understand.
Likewise, NoSQL has been around for a while but not long enough to become old hat. Most developers still feel deficient in their understanding of how this database functions and would like to receive additional instruction. Without such instruction they’ll have no choice but to wing it, and that approach can cause stress that quickly drives employees away.
4. De-emphasize self-directed video learning in favor of a blended approach. Online video libraries such as Pluralsight, Udemy and Coursera are a solid supplement to good training programs, but they shouldn’t be a cheap alternative to in-person, instructor-led training.
Video libraries aren’t extensive enough to cover specialized or advanced topics in software development and design, and in general developers prefer to interact with live instructors who can answer questions and provide feedback. Peer-to-peer jam sessions also score highly with software developers, who appreciate a cooperative approach to learning and problem solving.
5. Survey your employees early and often. Our Developer Learning Survey Report is a tremendous resource, and we invite you to read it cover to cover. But if you want to find out what’s happening in your company, you need to ask your workers to give you the scoop—straight and uncensored. You should give your surveys yearly and ensure they’re completely anonymous so your employees will feel free to tell you what they really think and not what they think you want to hear.
Of course, this strategy won’t help you much if you don’t take the feedback seriously. You must pay attention to what your developers tell you, and you should implement their suggestions if doing so is practical and cost effective.
Give Them Reasons to Stay, and They Will
One thing our survey results made clear is that software developers are an ambitious group. They’re almost phobic about getting stuck in places that lack opportunities to expand their understanding, sharpen their skills, and pursue their personal and professional self-development.
To stay ahead of the retention curve, you must help your developers stay ahead of their industry’s knowledge curve. Implement smarter training strategies and you’ll cut your personnel expenses and prevent your competitors from stealing your most valuable employees.
About the Author
Kelby Zorgdrager is CEO of Develop Intelligence.