Building a Great Engineering Team: Part Four – Retention

Matthew Strickland

4 min read

Sep 4, 2018

Building a Great Engineering Team: Part Four – Retention

Part of building something great is building it to last. No one builds a home for a season, and the same is true for your Engineering team. Retaining your team for the long haul is no easy task, but it is imperative that as a leader it is a priority. Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to retain your excellent Engineering team.

First Things First

There are seasons in life. In one season your team may be the right fit, and in another, it will not be. Family, health and life events will cause people on your team to go. Take a deep breath and be okay with some of your team coming and going…it happens. It is unavoidable and healthy for people to come and go, that’s not the focus here. What we want to focus on are the things we can control, let’s take a look at three areas I think will help you improve retention if you begin to prioritize them.

Bigger Picture

People will stick with your team if you invite them into something bigger than themselves. Most people call this vision, but whatever you call it, there must be a bigger narrative running through the day to day job for people to stick around. Profitability is fantastic, working with cool technology is fun, but all of that can lose shine after a while.

In my career, I have personally taken less money to stay at a company because their mission and vision was compelling. I’ve seen countless others choose careers because the cause was worthy.

What vision are you painting for your team members? Knowing this could unlock a longer tenure for the team you are building.

Work-Life Balance

One thing I hope to see change in the next 10 years is the culture around Engineering work-life balance shift from a grind to one that is sustainable. We all work hard, but we can also work smart. You’ve probably seen it and hopefully are not one pushing the agenda, but this churn of overworking people, extracting as much as you can from them and cycle them on is killing our industry’s ability to retain top talent. Pulling 60-80 hour weeks is not a badge of honor, it is a signal that a crash is looming.

At Big Nerd Ranch, one of our aims is to create balance in how we work hard and how we serve our customers. We accomplish this by offering a generous PTO and Professional Development package. We want our people to invest in themselves, whether it is getting away for the week to learn or play, finding a balance in life is essential for retention.

Another way we try to accomplish this is by offering remote work. Not only does this allow us to recruit from outside of our Atlanta footprint, but it also allows us to compete with the best in our industry for talented individuals who want to be able to live outside of the valley. Remote work has boomed in the last ten years with more and more companies offering the ability to work from anywhere. Perhaps for your company, it starts as a couple of days a week from the same state and blooms into multi-state recruiting. Whatever the case may be, give it a try, watch productivity and morale soar and reap the retention benefits.

Make Them Better

My last word of encouragement on the topic of retaining a great team center around making your people better. I’ll never forget one interaction early on in my career with a former boss. We were talking about allowing employees to go to conferences and training events. The boss could not fathom spending all of this money and having someone leave, and I could not fathom saving all of the money and having them stay.

What I’m trying to say here is that the more you invest in your team, the better they will be and in the long run the more likely to stick around. Investment in others is why at Big Nerd Ranch we believe so much in training. It’s not always about learning a new skill it is also about sharpening them. What investments are you making in your team in the short term that will keep them around for the long term? Perhaps you cannot afford training, but what about a book or a screencast? A little goes a long way here. Start small, let it snowball and reap the benefits of investing in your people.

Final Thoughts

Retention is more about doing the right things than a formula. No matter what you do, there are seasons of life that will take people to and from your team. Focus on what you can control as a leader, invest and develop with intentionality and see the team you are building gain lasting power.

In Part Five, we are going to hear from some of our other leaders at Big Nerd Ranch as they share some of their thoughts on Building a Great Engineering Team. I cannot wait for you to hear from them and I know you will benefit significantly from their perspective.

Steve Sparks

Reviewer Big Nerd Ranch

Steve Sparks has been a Nerd since 2011 and an electronics geek since age five. His primary focus is on iOS, watchOS, and tvOS development. He plays guitar and makes strange and terrifying contraptions. He lives in Atlanta with his family.

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