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Preventing Engineering Turnover

Retention

13 August, 2020

Julius Uy
Julius Uy

VP of Engineering at Hubble

Julius Uy, VP of Engineering at Hubble, shares what smaller companies can do to prevent or reduce their engineering turnover.

Problem

Software development has the highest turnover of all the industries and it costs companies billions. Retaining talent, especially for smaller companies and in face of severe competition, can be particularly hard.

When I was working at my previous company, a great number of highly skilled engineers were aspiring to move to big brand companies. Aware of the costs and all other difficulties this would cause, we were concerned how to keep particularly since larger companies could offer better pay. My approach that was not focused on compensation turned out to be very successful and I’ve lost only one engineer during my time as a manager.

Actions taken

I focused my efforts to embed psychological safety within the company as a precondition for creating a company culture that would nurture trusting relationships, embrace failures and emanate happiness.

I, personally, am all about creating happiness. For me, creating happiness includes many things: from how you talk to people and how you make them feel, to how you serve their needs and how you respond to their wants. But most importantly, I always do everything with a smile radiating the feeling of happiness around me. By doing so, I try to blur the difference between the time when people play and when people work. When people are playing they are dropping their guards and they are letting their authentic self appear. Being lighthearted at work lays foundations for building psychological safety at work. This lightheartedness not only encourages creativity but allows people to handle productively frustration and self-blame. Frustration and self-blame come as an undesired consequence of our failures. If lightheartedness prevails, then frustration is dissolved through jokes, relaxing comments, etc.

I was in a similar situation too many times and that helped to be able to put myself in other people’s shoes with ease. My response in the uncomfortable situations would depend on how my employees would prefer to be approached. We created a culture around our practice of lightheartedness and empathy that empowered them to more comfortably accept their shortcomings or mistakes while providing suggestions on how to improve.

All proposals coming from our employees would be taken very seriously and that would encourage them to throw around their ideas, validate them and in general be open to new things. People are intrinsically driven by a sense of autonomy and ownership and when provided with that, they would want to stay with the company. However, the company that creates the environment in which employees feel safe and inspired would benefit itself from that environment -- it would reduce the additional cost that results in engineering churn as well as from the knowledge transfer.

We also promote and help our engineers integrate and become an important part of the engineering community. Though often terrified by the very prospects of it, most engineers would love to be able to speak at community events. While public speaking is a nightmare for many, it boosts their profile and personal branding. We worked with Droidcon and Google Developer Group Community and were able to recommend our engineers as speakers and panelists at their events. It was a win-win situation: they needed knowledgeable people from the community to speak at their events and our engineers wanted personal branding. This also created a strong bonding between them and the company since they didn’t know if they would be able to continue doing it if they would move to the other company. Also, they would be recognized as Google Developer Experts within the company which is a supreme recognition for a mobile engineer.

Finally, I strongly believe in creating transparency from above. I would be talking with my engineers about plans that were discussed but not yet announced as I know how much they would appreciate being involved. That also allows for their participation and highly valuable insights. Moreover, transparency strengthens trust and trust between engineers and their manager is crucial for both productivity and engagement.

Lessons learned

  • When deciding on a company, engineers often look beyond financial compensation. In my experience, people are looking into the future and are willing to go for lower pay if they know that the investment they are putting into the company will be beneficial long-term. As long as the company can help them propel forward to what they want to achieve they would stay with the company.
  • The only engineer that left, was aspiring for a long time to move to Silicon Valley and I could only be supportive of his aspirations. However, the healthy working environment results in people networking and helping each other and we remained in touch to this day and continued to exchange ideas and best practices. Those relationships are also beneficial for the company and much of the useful information is cascading back to the company from the outside from people who once worked there.

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