On Charming Engineering Culture: My Notes

Published 20.06.2021

Author Hrittik Roy

Engineering teams are at the core of any modern organisation. They break/make an organisation, and empowering them is critical to any modern companies’ success.

A motivated engineer brings more value than a ‘whatever’ engineer. Its high time managers and leaders focus on building a nurturing culture that focuses on keeping your engineers motivated.

But, how would you keep them motivated? This post would focus on the pain point of most engineering managers around the globe.

Let’s start!

The Noise

The modern office perks are pretty focused on keeping the engineers at the office and work. But it doesn’t work, and people leave the organisation while you’re trying to clock extra hours. Also, the perks fall short as we are in between a global pandemic. A global pandemic means people are always at home, and your developers need more belonging to the company to feel motivated and productive.

So, clearing things out, engineering teams are not motivated with unlimited food. We all know how the ‘unlimited and completely free’ office dinner is served quite late to keep engineers at the office for more extended periods. People get to the truth very soon.

So, curb free food? Not, necessarily but you should focus on something else.

Maslow’s Law of hierarchy

Philosophy solves a lot of problems.

Maybe you would fall in love with it after the end of this section. Don’t you think you would? Let’s see.

My love goes back to me realising I have a bit of intuitive understanding of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and it helps me understand and rethink. Now, the problem with today’s culture is that they focus on everything unnecessary.

Diving Deep into the Triangle

Think of this as a crash course section. So, you see this triangle? It’s said you crave and try to climb up the hierarchy of your current section needs are fulfilled.

Engineering culture
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Source: Wikimedia

So, close your eyes (wait till you complete this paragraph!) and think about getting lost as a child. Where would you go? What would you do? I bet you would try to find a safe place, and after you find the site, your hunger kicks in. If you are hungry and roaming with a bullseye at your back, your hunger is not something you pay attention to. You follow the hierarchy of needs.

So, similarly, most developers have the bottom two needs taken care of quite well (we are in modern society!). If you want exceptional employees, your target must be providing them with belonging and esteem. Self-actualisation is a bit tricky to understand and target. And, it comes through within. Leave it now.

Quite honestly, If you don’t understand this simple psychological trick, your business is taking a hit on its bottom line, and your promotion is something you must forget due to an unproductive team. I talk to the managers in the later section.

So, let’s break down the psychology. Let’s understand how to target esteem and belonging to foster an exceptional engineering culture.

Developers Create Impact

Ask any developer, and he would say one of the reasons he loves being a developer is that he can, from his cubicle, make a real-world impact and change lives. And, if you’re reading this, you know, so does any organisation.

But, frequently, with deadlines, bottom lines, we forget how important it is to share a vision. Vision is what makes people follow a leader.

Startups are loved nowadays because the vision is relatively straightforward, but how do you present the vision in big corporations? TBH It’s not even that hard.

Saying Jane about how her refactored code could help students experience the website with lower load time and impact students trying to understand their assignments helps. Switch places with Jane, and now you see how motivated you’re to solve the problem. “Refactoring would help website load 10% faster” works, but I guess you now know it; making Jane more motivated and dedicated is done with the help of story and context.

I gave the most challenging example, but you can build the way up through easier real-life challenges. Let your developers be a part of the story. People love to be in your story, and people love to belong.

Performance Reviews are quite Shit

Continuous Feedback is the name of the game. If you (the boss!) drop performance review at the end of your quarter, some bad things will happen.

  1. People would lose motivation. Why? Think about your partner waiting X months to say something. Gets on your nerves? Yeah, that’s the point. Negative news suddenly and out of nowhere kills motivation.
  2. People would look for alternative jobs. Now, no one likes people who take so long, and I’m not sure if this comes as a surprise to you or not. But, people would start finding new bosses.


Don’t Waste Money

Meetings are pretty expensive. Think about holding an hour-long meeting with ten people.

50$ per hour for a developers time is quite a reasonable amount. And, some simple mathematics later the meeting is around 500$. Now, tell me what good things you can buy for 500$ instead of holding a meeting?

And, you must consider you’re not holding one meeting. It’s always a series of useless meetings. So, does 5000$ sounds like a good use here? NO.

Curbing meetings allow creatives to stay in a state of deep work and start respecting what makes a developer exceptional—deny meetings for creativity, and cause time is money.

Invest in your developers

I’m aware you invest time, energy when devs onboard. Again, reasonably expected, but if you need motivated devs who provide extraordinary outcomes, you need to go a bit out of your ways.

You need to figure out what motivates an individual and your priority list must contain helping them get there. Give trust, responsibility, credit and autonomy to them. Leaving them to explore allows them to go out of their ways to provide you and your organisation with exceptional value.

Help them to escape from three professional monsters. If you help them, they will try their best to help you 😉

Initiatives are your best friend

Never let any idea go unnoticed. Many startups are created when the managers don’t notice and don’t share the excitement of a new cutting edge solution to a problem by an employee.

Don’t let ideas flow out of the organisation. You can be sitting on an idea that might be the largest revenue generator in the next five years. Who knows? Ideas are like a spark. They can burn a forest in no time.

Also, help people achieve a state of trying things out, taking initiatives and making mistakes. Encourage your developers to ask for forgiveness and not permissions.

The End

This post was quite developer-focused, but you can think of this post as a guide to empowering people in every aspect and any team in your business.

And I forgot to ask something. Remember me talking about you would fall in love with psychology. So, do you like psychology now? It doesn’t matter to me.

It was an experiment to show how stories shape reality.

You would now remember the points as you have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on your mind. In the same way, start sharing context and stories with your developers. Stories stick well and spread energy.

Suppose you’d want us to create this engineering culture. Then, feel free to reach out. We are spreading this philosophy across Europe as internal developer relations. But before that, how about going through this post on why goals fail and the system doesn’t?

Want to experience this exact exceptional engineering culture I talked about? We would love to receive your application 😉

Happy Reading!

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