Retaining technical employees

retaining technical employees

Last week I received an email of a journalist who was working on an article for the NRC-Next, a Dutch newspaper. He wanted to hear my view on how TOPdesk retains its technical employees. The journalist was wondering whether we had special bonus schemes aimed to stimulate engineers, or whether the developers earn more money then employees in other departments. He knew that most tech companies had special benefits like big lease cars and huge salaries for engineers back when then internet bubble still needed to burst, and was curious what TOPdesk does for its software developers. We spoke for almost an hour and some of my quotes actually made it into the article, along with the ideas of some other HR people working at tech companies. The image above is the article printed last Wednesday.

So how do you retain your tech talents?

The basis goes back to what I described as my vision on HR in my first blog post. Hire great people, and get out of their way so they can do awesome stuff. The next question is: What makes software developers, testers and designers do awesome stuff? I didn’t know the answer to that question before I started working in HR at TOPdesk. Fortunately I didn’t need to find everything out myself, and was helped by my friends in the Development department. They kindly pointed me to one of the most important blogs anyone working for a software company could read: Joel on Software. It is a blog on software development, and very helpful for people who would like to become a great developer. Besides the articles on software development, Joel actually writes nice articles for people who work with software developers and helps to explain how they work.

What do tech people want?

Back to actually answering the question. Do you need big bonuses and lease cars to retain software developers? No you don’t; although I am pretty sure they would’t mind getting them. What you need to do is to give them everything they need to excel at their job. Here are three important things I learned from our developers or found on Joel’s blog:

  • Give your people autonomy! They can figure out what is most important to work on, and how to solve those immense puzzles better then you can. It always amazes me when companies hire talented and smart people, only to order them around instead of using those hired brains. Developers at TOPdesk use the Scrum method to organize their work, which means they decide what is made first, and how to solve problems themselves. They also get 1 day every 2 weeks on which they can do anything they like, as long as it involves improving their skills or figuring out new things for our company.
  • Give them good equipment to work with. They really need it, so you need to invest in it. I am not saying you should just buy anything with a big price tag, but be sure that their machines are fast (the work they do sometimes really strains the performance), they have plenty of screens (they actually use them), and have the tooling to perform their job.
  • Allow them to train themselves and learn things. They are artists and craftsmen, who continually strive to be better at what they do. Give them time and budgets to buy books, train each other and visit congresses. Everyone at TOPdesk has a training budget, developers are stimulated to use pair-programming, and they visit Devoxx every year.

Like I said before, HR didn’t invent these things. All I did was listen to what developers are saying. The development department in TOPdesk comes up with most of their HR policies themselves, we are just there to help facilitate. That is what I enjoy most about working with tech people, they really want to excel at their job. All you need to do is help them to achieve this so they will enjoy their job, do awesome stuff, and continue working for your company.