Network World's Carolyn Marsan writes this week about the topic and it is well worth reading her story.How long have you held your current position? If you answered less than two years, you are not alone. It seems that turnover could be IT's biggest challenge in the new year: keeping talented developers.
This isn't a completely new problem. In 1980, I took my second job, about two years after I started work at a consulting firm in Washington, DC. My father was not happy about the switch. He was working as an accountant for the same place (and ended up putting in 30 years by the time he eventually retired, yes complete with gold watch that I have somewhere). He thought it was too quick a transition. What would other employers think? Little did I know I was starting a trend in the tech field lo these many years ago
A CIO quoted in Marsan's article mentions how turnover is his biggest issue: "knowledge keeps walking out the door." I wondered if what he paid his developers was one of the reasons for the huge turnover. All of his six-person team has been with him for less than a year. But it turns out his particular issues aren't so simple.
Part of the problem is that loyalty is so over. Back in my dad's day, you wanted to amass a retirement portfolio, or get more vacation time, or other benefits of being with a firm for decades. Now, those seem old-fashioned, and there are fewer pension plans and more contract workers. Hypergrowth is what matters. Getting challenged, learning stuff. Layoffs can happen at a moment's notice, making more of a "what's in it for me" attitude.
The CIO interviewed in Marsan's article spoke about a very different developer mindset for today's 20-something coders. "There have been a number of cases where we have had a system that runs into issues, bugs, defects or a major change requirement. We thought it would be a challenge for a developer to own it. But their first reaction is to want to scrap it and start over."
Another problem is that we expect instant gratification in our work lives. We can download what we need almost immediately from the Internet. If we don't get super-fast bandwidth and sub-second response times from our computer we get frustrated. If it takes more than a few minutes to understand something, we move on. I have noticed this in my own use of apps recently: I get very impatient when I can't understand something at first, and tend to drop products that have even a modest learning curve. (This is one of the reasons why Second Life went nowhere: it was a lot to learn at once.)
One often-heard demand is for better workplace flex times. Back when I was in my 20s, I worked day and night sometimes to get projects done. There was no such thing as 9-to-5, telecommuting, or flexible Fridays. Today's GenY wants it all.
IT has to do a better job explaining the business context of their code and be engaged in what the company is actually doing with their apps. Coding just for coding's sake is passé, as it should be. Granted, this was true back in my formative years, but it has gotten more important as IT has become more of a distributed operation, and coders are closer to their departments.
Certainly, it is a delicate balance to train and retain highly technical people. But it does seem as if these times have made it more of a challenge. What has been your experience?