Cash alone won't keep developers happy, and they don't want your management job

Developers need more interesting code to work on and problems to solve in order to be fulfilled, according to a report.

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Congratulations! You manage a large team of engineers. You've arrived, right? All you need to worry about now is that up-and-coming engineer who wants your job.

Or not. According to Stack Overflow survey data from more than 75,000 developers, that "up-and-coming engineer" doesn't really want your job. No, she's pretty happy doing roughly the same work as now, or possibly geeking out on something different. Management? That's for losers.

More Dilbert than Pointy-haired Boss

In other words, your engineering team isn't a cheap facsimile of Game of Thrones (no, that's the sales team). Instead, engineers are driven by technical challenges, rather than personnel issues:

Image: Stack Overflow

A mere 10% or so of your engineering "cogs" hope to don your pointy-haired boss mask. Over half simply want to work on cool things, and every single one of those hope you'll get out of their way while they do it, which is one way to explain the heady rise of open source and cloud computing over the last 10+ years. To the extent that your engineers aspire to your job, it's not your job at all that they want. Instead, driven by a desire to build new things, 25.7% hope to build their own company.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In so saying, however, most of these developers aren't looking for the chance to tell everyone what to do (that's the marketing department). Indeed, roughly 73% of those surveyed said they're happy in their jobs. If they leave, again, it's not to take your job, but rather because in the quest to build things they may realize they can't do so at their current companies.

Set your developers free

That is why engineering managers should be particularly cognizant of this next bit of survey data:

Image: Stack Overflow

Most developers aren't actively looking, but only a quarter of developers are closed to the idea of moving on, whether to start their own thing or to join a different engineering team elsewhere to work on hard technical challenges. Given that more than half joined their current employer less than two years ago, developers may only be as loyal as the code they get to write.

In other words, you may want to try coddling your developers a bit more.

SEE: Hiring kit: IoT developer (Tech Pro Research)

By "coddle" I'm not really referring to benefits and compensation, though that is, of course, the top consideration for developers (18.3%). Anyone can pay well, so getting the other things right (like languages, frameworks, and other technologies at 17.3% or opportunities for professional development at 16%) could be the difference between keeping your best developer or watching her leave to start a company or, at least, to leave yours.

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Image: iStockphoto/nd3000