Last night I joined a few peers at Galvanize for Refresh Denver‘s monthly meetup. I met up with Matt and DCC newcomer, Gerrica, to hear Jeff Casimir present his “Why Developers Quit” talk (available on YouTube). Amazing beer, tasty pizza, a captivating speech, and engaging conversation make for a pretty great evening.
People are the most important part of a company
Jeff starts off by applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the average developer. Food, beer, couches being the culture; the physiological needs. Great paychecks meet the safety need. T-shirts and other company swag provide a sense of belonging. Jeff claims that last two items in the hierarchy – esteem and self-actualization – are the most difficult for developers to attain in a career.
Typically esteem is measured on things you have done, not what you’re going to do. Continual improvement shouldn’t mean focusing on the problems; People usually know what they’ve done wrong. Without encouragement or goals, employees die a little inside from focusing on their failures. Developers thrive in communities, in celebration, and by shipping a product.
I was happy to hear that some of Jeff’s suggestions on how to foster developer esteem were things that Crowd Favorite already does, such as cross-pollenating developer skill sets and taking part in project postmortems.
Additionally, code reviews are a great way to help foster high esteem. In addition to making sure there aren’t bugs, the reviewer can relive the story of the code; notice successful patterns and dead-ends.
Really, without esteem in a job, a developer is likely to seek it elsewhere.
According to Maslow, self-actualization is the “desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything one is capable of becoming”1. Jeff describes the gap between dreams and goals; a goal being a dream with a plan of how to get there. Few people have the luxury of knowing exactly what they want early on. Most people, like myself, have numerous trials and errors before they realize their dreams and even more before they can see a clear path to reach them.
Since this is such a challenging personal endeavor, an employer can’t simply hand a developer their goal in a box – the developer must work towards attaining the goals themselves. Employers can, however, provide assistance and guidance. Jeff asserts that sustained growth requires master coaching. He considers good feedback from mentors to be actionable, specific, measurable, realistic and timely (conveniently, SMART).
While ideals are the motivation behind the movement towards goals, mentors are the role models – real world examples of successful attainment of those ideals that can help steer the ship. It’s important to realize that the plan of attack may change, but the ideal will hold steady. Jeff further asserts that every company should have a coach on staff dedicated to advancing the team, though he’s come across very few companies that actually do.
Scientific success story
In his talk, Jeff described the book The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, as the “Outliers of science.” He gets into a few concepts from the book relating to how people only become successful through deep practice, where people push the limits of what they believe is possible; they build up scar tissue while proving what may seem unsolvable actually is. Building upon this idea, Jeff states that difference between a junior and senior developer is how quickly they become intimidated by the problems they run across.
In a field where best practices and technologies change like the wind, it can be difficult to stay the course towards my career goals. I’ve known that I’ll need to continually re-evaluate my plan of attack, but it wasn’t until recently did I realize that experience and perseverance are the names of the game. I, alone, am in charge of where I want my career to go and it’s up to me to keep chipping away at the knowledge glacier. As Jeff’s toddler says, “Do it by my own.” That said, I’m lucky to work with incredibly intelligent folks, whose brains I regularly pick.
So, I’ll continue going to interesting Meetups. I’ll keep studying with the great folks in Denver Code Club. I’ll keep exploring new technologies to apply to my daily workflow. And I won’t feel bad about doing it – in moderation, of course. Before I know it, I’ll have reached my goals. I expect that by then, through periodic self-evaluation, I’ll have some new ones to work towards.
1 – Maslow, 2006 Theories of Human Motivation