6 Ways to Retain Your Tech Talent

By Marco Tabini, Yusuf Simonson

Sep. 27, 2016

Attract the class of engineers who are sold on your mission, not just the number of digits on their paychecks.

When it comes to recruiting and managing talent, there’s a pretty basic concept that everybody seems to agree with: You want to keep awesome people around. After all, the better your employees, the better your company, right?

Retaining your top performers isn’t quite so cut and dried, particularly when it comes to keeping technical talent on your team. When you’re up against everything from small, trendy startups to well-paying tech giants like Google and Apple, inspiring your engineers and developers to stick with you can seem like a constant uphill battle.

But, it doesn’t need to be that complicated. In fact, there are a few key things you can do to not only retain that much-needed technical talent, but also foster an amazing work environment while doing so. These tips will help you ensure that your very best people always want to stick around.

Focus on What’s Important

Money talks. However, in regards to retaining the technical talent you really want, it’s important to note that salary isn’t everything.

Staying competitive with compensation is likely the first thing most people think of when trying to keep people on their roster. And yes, salary and monetary incentives are an important consideration, but they won’t be the deciding factor for the kinds of people you actually want to hire and keep around. Need further proof? 52% of engineers would actually take less money to work in a great culture or for an awesome brand.

Remember, you want to attract the class of engineers who are sold on your mission and excited about what you’re doing — and not just the number of digits on their paychecks. Those are the people who will be more inclined to stick with you for the long haul, which means you’re setting yourself up for success right from the get-go.

Find What Makes You Different

Zoning in on those key cultural elements that set you apart from the crowd (and, no, your free snacks alone don’t count) is key for recruiting and retaining talent — including those technical roles you’re eager to keep filled. And, while those points of differentiation won’t help you attract all talent, they will help you attract and retain the right talent.

The critical part here is to identify all of those different nuggets that make you a stellar place to work, and then actively promote those to both existing and prospective employees.

Be Selective

There are a few main points that come into play during the actual hiring process that will help to ensure you’re truly bringing on the people who are the best fit for your company — meaning they’re that much more likely to stay on board.

For starters, be selective. Remember, you’re aiming to find a really solid fit between who you hire and your organization.

Diversity in backgrounds and experiences is another key to look at when hiring. Don’t just search for engineers who happen to know the same technologies you’ve already settled upon, but rather those who show clear curiosity and self-determination to pick up new technologies.

Engineers are curious by nature, and an organization that is willing to hire outside of the company’s immediate competencies tends to create a more stimulating environment — an environment that people truly want to be a part of.

Provide a Sense of Agency

Provide a great sense of agency and independence to engineers. Ensure that technical team members are able to have a seat at the table for major decisions — be they architectural or product related.

Fostering a blameless culture is also key to ensuring all of your employees — but particularly those in technical roles — feel supported and encouraged at work. A culture that won’t turn around and place blame or point fingers ensures that engineers aren’t afraid to take risks without deferring, further preserving their agency.

Bugs and issues are bound to crop up. And, when they do, don’t beat someone over the head with them. Learn from the experience and prevent those mistakes in the future, but never use them as punishment — that only incentivizes a slow pace.

Detail Clear Paths for Advancement

We’ve all heard that famous sentiment, “The only way up is out”. Of course, you don’t want to fall into this trap. Nobody wants to feel limited in their careers — a cap or expiration date is never appealing. In fact, a reported 76% of engineers would leave their job for career growth opportunities.

Detail explicit paths for advancement to avoid technical talent from heading out the door for greener pastures. Create a career ladders document, which transparently shares minimum requirements for every level of engineering, as well as management roles. Salaries are made more objective by tying ranges to the various levels outlined in that document.

Additionally, make clear paths of advancement for both people interested in management and people who are interested in individual contributor roles. Not all stellar developers make stellar managers, but both types of roles are important.

The main point is to make it clear what employees can expect moving forward. It’s human nature: People are much more likely to stay the path if they know where it’s actually heading.

Offer Continuous Educational Opportunities

Finally, make an effort to incorporate as many learning opportunities into your work environment as possible. Send people to conferences and meetups, encourage them to write and speak, organize internal lectures, and give them chances to explore other projects.

Dedicating time and resources to continued education might seem like a waste. But, always remember this old adage: The poor manager asks, “What if I invest in my engineers’ education and they leave?” while the smart manager asks, “What if I don’t and they stay?”

When it comes to your technical roles, you want to keep the very best people on your team. Nobody can blame you for that. But, as you already know, retaining employees involves a little thought, consideration, and strategy.

Yusuf Simonson is chief technology officer for New York-based The Muse and Marco Tabini is the vice president of engineering at The Muse.

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