João Freitas

The following article explains effective ways to retain software engineers in a startup. How? Engineers love productivity and feel like they are working in their own playground, so giving them the toys they want will make them feel joyful, invincible and in return productive.

So, as a CEO/CTO in SaaS companies for over 15 years, I know a little about hiring and retaining engineering talent. Hiring is its own beast and honestly is VERY difficult so today, I’m going to talk about how to retain your engineering talent.

Now, before I begin, you have to learn a little hard truth. Generally, engineers at startups are about as loyal as the total size of the cash portion of their TC. Quite frankly, they are used to be overworked, getting very high demands, and pay that does not match the amount of work and hours they put in. Oftentimes, they’re requests for higher pay are denied which is when they become resentful and move on. They don’t care about your mission and they don’t care about your company. That’s because they’ve been burned so many times by companies that don’t care about them that if a better paying offer comes along, unless a cash event for your equity is right on the horizon, they’ll probably leave.

But I have learned a trick.

It should seem self-evident but if you make an engineer feel valued, respected, and appreciated they will be loyal and work hard for you. But this goes far beyond salary and equity.

Now, as a founder/CEO, you know if you give a raise to one engineer, word will spread, and you’ll have to give raises to all of them, and your burn will skyrocket since engineers are all a bunch of gossips. But of course you want to retain talent, right?

Well, fortunately there’s a shortcut I’ve learned rather than having to increase pay or give out bonuses.

Invest heavily in fixed assets.

First off, don’t just buy the same laptop for all your engineers. Not every engineer needs the same equipment. For example, I was building a highly complex piece of software for a FinTech company. After about six months, running the test suite on my laptop took over 25 minutes. And I had to do this 4-6 times a day. That’s a LOT of time I was not doing anything productive. Now, on my desktop at home, it took about 15 minutes. At the speed at which I code, that adds up to a lot more productivity. But of course, they didn’t want me to work from home.

So I begged and pleaded and finally got them to agree to buy me an $8,000 desktop for the office. You know how long the test suite took? 6 minutes. So that was an extra 1.5-2 hours of coding they got from me a day. The added productivity paid for itself almost immediately.

So first, learn and understand what kind of hardware your engineers need. Investing in it can pay huge dividends.

Second, invest in your engineers workspace.

When I ran my company, on an engineer’s first day, they’d walk in to an empty desk, sit down, and we’d say today is Christmas. Go home and think about your dream workspace. Computer(s), monitors, keyboard, mouse, headphone setup, plants, anything. And make a list. Send it to us and if everything is within reason, we’ll get it for you.

Now, reasonable for a top engineer may not seem reasonable to you because we’d frequently spend $10,000 per person.

But you have to consider the effect it had, especially now that people work remotely.

It made their desk their favorite place to be in life as it was comfortable and efficient.

And they would gladly work longer hours because……they didn’t want to leave they’re happy place.

This goes double when working from home.

And then there’s the reason you really don’t tell them…….

This generates huge loyalty on two fronts. First, they feel tremendously appreciated…….and second, if they ever think about leaving, they immediately stop because they don’t want their toys taken away. And engineers love their toys.

So with that is how we got workers to work longer hours, generated tremendous loyalty, and kept them all very happy at the same time. I’ve never had a single engineer quit when we’ve purchased all the equipment they ever wanted and asked for.

Just a good trick I learned that made everyone happy all around. We of course also paid them well and never took them for granted but we never for a second thought they’d remain loyal just for the sake of the company or the mission. That’s just delusional.

This was one of a number of steps we did to make our engineers feel valued and respected beyond just a large cash salary, although we did always make sure to pay market or above and give raises and small bonuses when appropriate. When engineers feel they are a valued part of a team, that’s how you generate real loyalty.

#reads #innovation nation #engineering #productivity