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Author and chief editor of the effizine, online magazine for busy professionals desperate for getting things done efficiently

What motivates software developers

What motivates great software developers? As I move from one company to another and work with more clients, looking back at 15 years of history, things become more clear than ever. There are two types of motivating factors that attract great developers. Each of the factor brings a different type of motivation into play and those have great impact on developer’s engagement. Factors can be mixed, however interestingly one of them is always prevailing and dominates the type of motivation.

1. Money. This one is obvious. Senior guys with over ten years of experience can pull over ten times than a junior staffers easily. If you go beyond the market level you can be pretty sure some of the best engineers will stick with you. Depending how far you can go.

2. Projects. This one is difficult. Seniors are easily bored with mediocre projects. One factor that defines the quality of projects for mid-level devs is the technology stack at use. Mid experienced are absolutely fascinated with anything new. Seniors prefer working only on the relevant.

Every company posts about “young”, “dynamic” and what have you team, forgetting this is largely irrelevant for whoever has enough experience not to care if they work with women or men, 20 something or 30 something. As far as their interest goes they could work with aliens from different planet. Equally “dynamic” is meaningless as for whoever got any experience whatsoever this could mean that they will either be expected to do refactoring old code like crazy monkeys or scatter daily commits all over the project tree. This means basically nothing as it can go either interesting or a very mundane way.

Where most of the companies miss the point is the learning curve. Instead of listing tangible benefits, few companies put “learning” as their trait. This is because most of the companies don’t want to take on people with no previous job experience. People in their first three years of job experience only learn the concept of working, interacting with colleagues and reporting work progress. After the initial three years they usually change their job anyway and this where much more capable companies step in to take over people who basically received basic training somewhere else. Ability to learn remains however a great factor for attracting juniors, if you make sure you get return on your investment between day one and the last day of their work — three years from now.

The best senior developers want to work on disruptive, innovative and generally interesting projects. This is where concept of relevant needs to be defined. People with right motivation don’t care which version of programming language you give them or whether they’ll sit around walls painted white or yellow. People with the right motivation care deeply only about the change they can make with their project impacting real life. Anyone can get excited with money, impressive job title or the office building. This however goes away quicker than you might think. The only motivation that sticks and go really long is relevance: responsibility and ability to make an a positive impact on the market.

In fact the relevance remains so important that only during last two years by offering work on relevant projects I never had to post a job ad for any of the projects I was leading. Better still, we managed to attract best developers from the region just because we had something relevant to work on. We’ve managed to bring developers from top companies around Szczecin, even if they already had a job they were not willing to give up because of stability. They were very happy to work for us, even if the rates were probably much below what they were getting at their main workplace. We never had to offer more impressive office space. In fact in many cases we didn’t provide any office space at all, as I think guys are happy to be working for us at different times of a day. The ethics requires that we never ask question whether they work for us after midnight or during the so-called “lunch-time”.

We’ve managed to work with best developers not because of the team spirit, money or offices, even if we could and do offer all of it. Over the course of just last two years we’ve worked with best developers from several companies and more than just few locations in Poland: Szczecin and Wrocław being the two hot-spots for us. I can only guess that the nature of technologies and the very projects were enough to attract the best ones. Therefore we continue to focus very much on the relevance of what we build. More than anything else we want to keep the momentum and keep our best developers motivated. We want continue to work as a virtual team — a mix of the on-premise and on-demand team mates making a great team motivated way beyond the usual.

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