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Which developer on your team is looking for a new job?

Have you thought how expensive developer turnover is? In this Stack Overflow article, Rachel Malady dicusses studies that show the cost of losing an employee is about 2x their salary, and the cost of onboarding new employees is 6-9 months of their annual salary.


The costs of losing people are high, and not just in financial terms. Whenever developers quit…

  • My customers get nervous. Both internal and external customers know that their project depends on your developers being happy and productive, and when they leave, it casts doubt on your ability to create that kind of environment. The result is the loss of confidence in your leadership ability.
  • The project schedules slip to account for the loss of that developer. I might be able to back-fill with another developer, but they will always need a ramp-up period on the project. The result is your project doesn’t deliver on-time.
  • My boss gets concerned. As a Development Manager, it’s my job to grow a great software team. That certainly means making good hires, and firing people when necessary, but it also means retaining the best folks. When good developers leave, the question will naturally be asked: what could you have done to keep them?
  • I have to spend time I don’t have advertising, reviewing resumes, screening, interviewing, etc. Like most things, this takes more time and money than expect.

We might feel we don’t have much control over our developers leaving. After all, it’s a free country, and the market for their skills is strong. So if our developers quit, maybe we should simply chalk it up to inflated salaries at Facebook, Netflix, and Google. Or should we blame the start-up culture of office backrubs and lunch-delivered-to-your-desk that we read about?

How can we possibly compete? Heck, it’s a wonder we can keep anyone for longer than a month!

And when they do quit developers might not tell us the whole truth about WHY they leave. They don’t lie… but we don’t get the whole story. I don’t blame them and have done the same thing (more than once!)


You might hear reasons such as…

  • Better pay
  • More flexible working hours
  • More meaningful work.
  • Taking a promotion

There’s truth in all these reasons, but I don’t think they are the real reason.


Now, this might sting a bit…

The real reason your developers quit is you.

They feel ignored. They feel treated like a ‘resource’. They don’t believe you care about them or their dreams. They long for direct guidance and when needed, correction. They dream of a manager that gives regular feedback, gentle correction and doesn’t surprise them at evaluation time.


If you are keeping your employees at arms length, they will leave. Some of them are already planning on leaving as soon as “the time is right”.

(Ever notice why when one developer leaves, everyone else starts talking about their dream job? They start thinking, “If she escaped, maybe I can too…” Sounds like a jailbreak or a mutiny, doesn’t it?)


But the news isn’t all bad.

Since you are the reason they want to leave… you can be the reason they want to stay.

In fact, I talk to developers every week who make poor money, work in inflexible situations, with old technology but are happy at their jobs. The reason they stay is always the same: they have an excellent manager. They are loyal to another person, who is loyal back to them.

All the stuff you think matters, doesn’t matter at all. Create real, deep, lasting relationships with your developers and you’ll be amazed at how they respond. Seriously, start today.


About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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