How To Make Software Developers Happy And Avoid Burnout

If businesses can’t figure out ways to get more people into the tech sector, upskill existing employees or deploy automation, it will cause software engineers to consider quitting. What may be worse is that they’ll hang on, but feel burned out, which becomes harmful to the mental well-being of the tech professionals.

The tech sector has been on fire. Funding announcements from venture capitalists became a daily routine. There was a parade of fast-growing startups reaching billion-dollar unicorn status. The large tech titans, such as Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta, kept growing higher, defying gravity. It felt like every business deemed itself a “tech company.”

Salesforce’s MuleSoft division conducted a recent survey to gain insights into what is happening in the tech sector, and particularly how unabated growth and demands impact workers. The study’s results indicate that businesses are continually confronting challenges in retaining and attracting skilled developers. Ninety-three percent of respondents reported that the Great Resignation has made it increasingly difficult for their “IT teams to retain skilled developers and 86% say it has become more difficult to recruit them in the last two years.”

The significant lack of specialized tech talent will lead to a stifling of innovation and advancement. The pandemic accelerated the pivot to a digital era. With the blistering growth, software engineers and tech professionals are inundated with work and are in high demand. The demand versus supply is so unbalanced that companies can’t find enough people to staff the open headcounts.

Since these professionals are notoriously hard to recruit and hire—as they are highly coveted and have an array of options—the workload is piled on the existing staff. The overworked team members may start looking for other opportunities, creating a downward spiral of attrition.

Why Software Engineers Are Unhappy

In an interview with Matt McLarty, global field chief technology officer and vice president of the digital transformation office at MuleSoft, he offered some color and context to this dilemma. McLarty, a well-experienced tech executive, said about the current state of affairs, “The demand for digital solutions was already outpacing the supply of software developers before the pandemic, but now it’s through the roof. Churn caused by the Great Resignation is widening this gap even further.”

McLarty points out that there are several major issues that impact these highly skilled professionals. Many organizations have legacy software that the long-time tech team knows how to navigate. When a smart, experienced software engineer starts a new job, they have difficulty trying to figure out all of the quirks and idiosyncrasies in the technologies they now have to master. It can be discouraging when the new hire feels ill-equipped to figure out the new setup. It’s especially difficult when they feel like they were the hotshots at the prior firm. To remedy this challenge, McLarty is a proponent of offering no or low-code software to make this type of change easier.

He also contends that as tech keeps growing, there will not be enough people to meet demand. The unrelenting work aggravates the engineers and prompts them to look elsewhere. The solution he says is to get more people involved with tech. This could be accomplished through coding boot camps, online coursework and people with motivation and the right inclinations can be self-taught. A fallacy, McLarty points out, is that you don’t have to be a coder to get a job at a tech company. You can start with a non-tech role and work your way up.

Another often-overlooked challenge is that engineers only code around 10% of the time. The rest of the day is dealing with the business side, engaged in repetitive mundane tasks and activities that take them away from their core coding responsibilities. This leaves many people feeling frustrated, as they become further removed from what they love doing best and prompts people to consider quitting for another opportunity.

An issue that plagues both techies and professionals across all sectors is that tasks are ordered to be done, but the manager doesn’t clearly articulate why they are doing it and how it fits into the bigger picture. Without having any context or connection to the assignment, it’s easy to feel disenfranchised, which may lead to burnout.

Downsizing And Layoffs

There have been recent announcements of downsizings and layoffs initiated by both startups and tech giants. It looks like this is a temporary correction to the vast sum of money that was flooded into the economy by the Federal Reserve Bank’s fiscal policies and stimulus programs enacted by the federal government. The forward-looking trajectory will see continued growth in tech, along with the desperate need for talent to fill the needs.

Over the last month, LinkedIn became popular with stunned tech professionals announcing that they have been laid off and need help finding a new job. A large portion of overall compensation for tech workers is based on stock options. As the stock market plunged and the tech sector entered bear market territory (when stocks are down more than 20%), there was palpable fear and concern. In this type of environment, it’s harder for a person to seek out a new job or demand a raise. This could further alienate workers, as they feel stuck, lacking options and watching the value of their company-stock holding in freefall.

How Things Can Be Improved

There are several ways, according to McLarty and the survey findings, to improve the situation, making workers happier and less susceptible to burnout. Employees want to feel empowered and appreciated by their organizations. They should be offered upskilling, coaching, mentoring and the ability to move laterally within the company to learn new skills, stretch themselves professionally and stay fresh and energized by the new assignments.

Inviting employees outside of the IT ecosystem to participate and assist with tasks, such as integrating apps and data, will result in an acceleration of transformation, as the process will unload some of the burdens placed upon software engineers. Additionally, deploying automation will help to drive greater efficiency.

McLarty said, “For organizations to truly transform digitally, they need to do two things: first, give developers user-friendly tools that maximize their productivity, and secondly, give the rest of the knowledge workers in the organization tools that empower them to become engaged in building digital solutions, not just documenting requirements.”

He added, “The automotive industry would never have taken off if all the cars were being built by individual craftspeople,” as a team with a wide variety of skills and perspectives is needed to succeed. McLarty continued with the analogy, “The job of building cars had to be broken down to make it accessible to the masses. We’re at that point in the software industry. We can’t expect a relatively small percentage of workers—software developers—to bear the brunt of mass digital production. We have to get the whole organization involved. Low-code tooling and automation technology are the means for doing that, and they’ve already been shown to improve employee satisfaction and reduce stress.”

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