The developer experience: how to nurture and retain existing tech talent - The EE

The developer experience: how to nurture and retain existing tech talent

Jeff Fried of InterSystems

The global tech talent shortage is no new phenomenon, but its effects are delivering a particularly powerful sting to organisations as they enter 2022. With demand for technology and digital transformation skills reaching ever upwards from an already lofty pre-Covid base, continuing IT skills gaps and unprecedented tech worker resignations are threatening to inhibit the growth of businesses everywhere.

In fact, a recent Gartner survey found that IT executives see the talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies, compared with just 4% in 2020, says Jeff Fried, director of product management, InterSystems.

For many companies, the stumbling blocks on the path to digital transformation have only grown in recent months as the erosion of geographical barriers make it easier for tech talent to work for organisations anywhere in the world. Big players are offering increasingly attractive packages that most businesses simply cannot compete with, adding further fuel to the oft-cited ‘Great Resignation’.

Amidst these increasing pressures, organisations must shift their focus to nurturing and retaining their existing pool of tech talent. McKinsey goes as far as to say that CIOs should make the developer experience the cornerstone of their organisation’s talent strategy in the years ahead. This will require businesses to consistently put the developer experience front and centre, ensuring these sought-after talents are fully recognised and supported.

Avoiding tech burnout

As with all seismic shifts, digital transformation requirements place substantial pressures on the workforce. These pressures typically fall on the shoulders of tech teams, so an important starting point for businesses is to gauge current developer sentiment within their organisation and to understand what is and isn’t working. Research from InterSystems found that more than eight out of 10 developers felt they worked in a pressured environment, yet more than half (55%) expressed a reluctance to tell their line manager if they felt stressed or overworked.

If organisations are to retain their existing tech talent, they must take steps to help alleviate developer stress. At a time when 83% of software developers experience burnout from work, failure to factor the developer experience into driving change can severely damage team morale, productivity, product quality, and project timeframes. Maintaining an open dialogue with developers will ensure concerns about workload or deadlines are aired and addressed in a prompt, constructive manner.

InterSystems also found that almost a third of developers claim their organisations do not provide access to resources to help them manage stress. While this may be partly due to businesses not being aware of the toll being placed on developers, particularly given the shift to remote working and the subsequent impact on the visibility of individual workers, spotting and addressing the signs of employee stress is a key area for improvement.

Elevating the developer experience with technology

To improve the developer experience, and ultimately retain and attract talent, businesses should begin to make changes to reduce the strain placed on developers and help them achieve a healthier work-life balance. The introduction of fairly simple initiatives, such as flexitime and offering ‘mental health days’, can help to reduce the risk of burnout while showing developers that they are valued members of the business whose needs are being listened to.

Additionally, organisations should adopt the tools and technology to enable developers to automate parts of their workload. Solutions such as data platforms that make use of machine learning (ML) are a prime example of this. The use of this type of technology will enable developers to easily add automation and predictions to applications without them needing to be experts in ML.

Implementing technologies that embed ML capabilities can also help to simplify the process of building, testing, and deploying ML models, thereby accelerating the process of integrating them into production applications. This, in turn, will help to lessen the load for developers, allowing them to focus on the more specialist, rewarding aspects of their roles.

As well as providing access to tools and resources, organisations should actively encourage developers to engage in online developer communities or forums, such as Stack Overflow and Github, and connect more with other developers and tech talent within the organisation. Taking this approach to supplement the use of the right technologies will help to create better support mechanisms for developers – whether they are working remotely or in the office environment – and help to foster a culture of collaboration and creativity.

Talent sustainability in 2022

Undeniably, developers play a substantial role in their organisations, with 96% saying that they make an important contribution to wider business operations. In recognition of this, and to ensure they continue to attract, nurture, and retain this lucrative talent, businesses must begin to see the developer experience as a vital piece of the talent strategy puzzle.

Organisations should look to combine the necessary pastoral care to allow developers to come forward about workplace struggles with the solutions and resources needed to lessen the load and make their lives easier. By proactively engaging developers on their terms and putting meaningful investment into their personal wellbeing, professional skill-building, and career progression, employers can build and develop a well-rounded, diverse, and sustainable community of tech professionals.

When it comes to futureproofing business with a sustainable tech talent pool, organisations must look beyond hiring and turn their focus inward. Championing the developer experience by engaging and nurturing existing tech talent will pay dividends in the long run, both for the business and for individual employees. Only an experienced, healthy, and valued tech team will have the agility to drive the best digital transformation outcomes, allowing employers to step confidently into the future with the competitive edge that great tech assets bring.

The author is Jeff Fried, director of product management, InterSystems.

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