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Kimberly Allers , a writer at Fortune magazine and senior editor at Essence, is a frequent guest speaker at professional development seminars. Martha Mendoza is a national staff writer for the Associated Press. In , she won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

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I assumed it was insignificant. I assumed things would just get better. In reality, the boredom was a seed. I think of boredom as a clock. Every second that someone on my team is bored, a second passes on this clock. After some aggregated amount of seconds that varies for every person, they look at the time, throw up their arms, and quit. Boredom implies that the developer gets little out of the task and that the perceived value that he or she is providing is low.

But where things get a little more interesting is that pretty much all of them, including the ones from the linked articles, fall into a desire for autonomy, mastery, or purpose. For some background, check out this video from RSA Animate. Frustration with organizational stupidity is usually the result of a lack of autonomy and the perception of no discernible purpose. You can keep your good developers by making sure they have a compelling narrative as employees.

Bad or mediocre developers are those who are generally resigned or checked out. That is, they give up on self-actualization in exchange for a company paying a mortgage, a few car payments, and a set of utilities for them. These workers are easy to keep because that is their default state of affairs.

But when you offer that same narrative to ambitious, passionate, and talented developers, they leave.


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They grow bored, and bored people quit. They refuse to tolerate that organizational stupidity, and they evaporate. You need to offer your talented developers a more appealing narrative if you want them to stay. Make sure that you take them aside and reaffirm that narrative to them frequently. And make sure the narrative is deterministic in that their own actions allow them to move toward one of the goals. Here are some narratives that might keep developers around:.

It may not always be possible to give the person exactly what he or she wants, but at least knowing what it is may lead to attractive compromises or alternate ideas. At any point, both you and the developers on your team should know their narratives. That will catapult your group into a vicious feedback loop.

Work on the narratives with the developers and refine them over the course of time. Get feedback on how the narratives are progressing and update them as needed. I think that as long as talented employees have a narrative and some aspirations, their value apex need not level off. This is especially true at, say, consulting firms where new domains and ad-hoc organization models are the norm rather than the exception. It allows for replacement planning and general, mutual growth. Whatever the narrative may be, mark progress toward it, refine it, and make sure that your developers are working with and toward autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Good and great developers want to stay current with the technologies they use and to learn new ones as they emerge. Thanks for the additional points for keeping developers around. Building up a common, shared sense of learning and development produces its own rewards. Having regular report-back sessions from training and conferences helps to spread not just the knowledge itself but also the ethos or mindset around learning and self-development.

Really great article! I had quit my job a few months back in favor of an opportunity that would allow me to grow professionally. A friend, and former co-worker, is still working for my previous employer.

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Hi Charles — thanks for the kind words. Hopefully your friend is in that camp. As a web developer who recently left a 14 year position with the same company, I wish you had written this a year ago. I loved my work but not my job. My previous boss encouraged and rewarded my quirkiness so I stuck around. Once that person and feeling of acceptance was gone, so was I. Just the fact that your own personal narrative includes your own business autonomy and possible expansion purpose makes it sound as though your current situation is a happier one.

I have to point out that there are lots of jobs that are truly a body in a chair. This is unskilled labor, by definition.

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I have met unskilled laborers who have taken their job with great pride, feeling a sense of purpose in fulfilling roles so much of our society takes for granted. The work must be done so appreciating that the work is being done and helping that person build their own narrative, in or out of that chair, is where a manager and most of us in just being grateful can help. I love the post, and I hate the events leading up to you writing this post.


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  • Unfortunately, the events leading to this post also left me with the feeling that the other half of the things you mentioned are still missing from my career. Perhaps jobs are like houses over the course of your life. But the overall arc is that you collect nice things while not leaving too many behind.

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    Great post Erik, you make some excellent points. A large part of my job is recruiting and retaining developers. There are many reasons not to hire bad or even mediocre devs, but one of the most important ones is that they almost never leave voluntarily. One of the few things that seems to work is being surrounded by other great devs. I think that this certainly helps with both mastery and purpose, since you will naturally feel some positive pressure to improve and the group will probably do impressive things. And, you might be willing to trade autonomy for that, at least temporarily or you might hit the trifecta and not need to.

    Alex, does this mean you would rather hire a developer that is currently employed. I just changed positions and had to answer lots of awkward questions about why I want to leave my current position. I left a job with a bunch of fine folks that I respected and enjoyed working with, and had no problem talking about them positively in an interview with potential employers…but could still make it clear that I wanted to work with newer technologies and with a management team that was experienced with modern software development methods.

    Very good post. Really enjoyed reading. You captured really well the situation of many companies, expressed how passionate and talented developers feel about their jobs and what they expect from employers. Well done. Tweetvaso link This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged advice, carier, developers, hiring, programmers. Bookmark the permalink.

    7 Reasons To Quit Your Job

    But […]. This is a good example of something that will tend to keep programmers around by promoting mastery, autonomy, and […]. That capacity is finite for some people.


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    • Also excluding if the developer just gives up for external from work reasons. Might be different in other cultures though…. As typically stated it tends to mean assuming more management-orientated responsibilities. This is fairly unique to developers and reflected in wages. Developers tend to max out in earnings relatively soon in their careers. I remember coming across a conversation on Twitter not too long ago where a game developer was lamenting his decision to stay or leave at the game company he was working at.

      He saw the choice as a dichotomy. This is a truly incredible article and pretty much explains how I feel with words I could never conjure up myself. The list of reasons is spot on, I can relate to everything so well, the meaningless job title, the lack of education, the unstoppable chain of pointless and repetitive work and the watching of the world move on in terms of technology and methodology whilst being shackled by the chains of incompetent seniors who prevent any form of free thinking, research and investigation, let alone actual advancement.

      I think this article hits home in any career field. I think the parenthetical point is a sad, but important one to realize. Unfortunately, there are going to be some managers that take the short-view and are not willing to make a good faith effort to assist in career development for their reports. The author lists some common reasons and concludes that, ultimately, all are linked to the desire for autonomy, mastery, or purpose. And this is one of the key premises of the post — that companies tend to overvalue contributions from people based on the length of their tenure.

      Oh, I see. I certainly agree with your point then. Unmarketable people who feel slighted because they are paid too little in their estimation will certainly look to minimize their contributions.

      burrow23.dev3.develag.com/207.php I look at it in much more simple terms.