Oftentimes as developers, we are handed what to build—with most of the requirements pretty set in stone—and then asked to fulfill whatever that may be. Sure we might have a meeting or two to discuss possible roadblocks around implementation or ask some questions for clarification. But wouldn’t it be better if we were involved earlier in product contribution?
What if we collaborated with the product team to build something better? Or even put a pause on something being built because nobody took into account how it would affect a specific demographic of users? Sometimes, it can feel like there isn’t enough trust being given to software developers, even though we are the ones implementing the solution.
I recently read about companies monitoring their remote employees by tracking their productivity through keystrokes, idle time, etc. To me, this screams: “I don’t trust you to do the job that I hired you to do, and I’m going to watch your every move to ensure that you are a good investment.” Sounds like a real fun time and a surefire way to demotivate people very quickly. However, there are companies that exist that want to include you in important conversations so that you can make an impact earlier because they trust your expertise and they value your thoughts and opinions.
So, how do we get to that point where we know the product well enough? When you know how a product is being used day-to-day by end users, you can start contributing your own ideas of how to make the product better. What if one of us becomes the next Flamin’ Hot Cheetos inventor of the tech world? What if we were so close to the product we could know the immediate impact of our contributions? Would that give devs a renewed sense of purpose? Would this cut down on attrition?
Here are some questions I encourage devs to ask themselves:
- Do you use the product that you’ve built? If not, why?
- Do you know how it is being used?
- Do you know what features users use the most and what features they are requesting or wish were part of the product?
- Are there features that you feel are hindering the user experience in any way or might be confusing?
- What about accessibility?
- Do you know which browsers they use?
- What type of device are they using to use the product?
Asking these types of questions—and being given the opportunities to contribute to the overall vision of the product—creates many benefits for the individual contributors and the company overall. Having worked at and with a few companies that adopted this approach, here are some of the benefits I experienced and witnessed. All of these contribute to happy employees who generally stick around for longer than average.
Anytime you notice someone celebrating more than five years at a company in the software industry, it feels surprising. There is a myriad of reasons why people decide to move on from a company, but what about the ones that stay?
I enjoy working in this industry because I enjoy being challenged and the breadth and variety of work I come across, especially working for a consultancy. In my personal experience—working for a few product companies and consulting for them as well—companies that stand out are driven by creativity and innovation and also encourage and include their employees to be a part of the decisions behind the product itself.
We spend a large part of our lives working. When we’re not exercising our creativity, it is a rather dull affair. I feel more valued, supported, and connected when I’m encouraged to actively participate and contribute by bringing my unique perspective and experiences to the table. This led me to stay or wish I was on the client engagement longer.
I distinctly remember a story about how one of my friends had to open up the JS console to fix the HTML on a broken form so his friend could submit something for her green card. And that wasn’t the only issue! I’m sure we all can think of at least one app or website that was confusing, clunky, or frustrating to navigate.
When I was trusted to be part of the process and success of the product I was building, I took the initiative to better understand how the product was being used.
I was invested as a result of being invested in by others. Funny how that works, right?
As the company further invested in me, I took it upon myself to dig deeper. I even worked closely with the end users I was immediately impacting whenever we released a new feature. I sat in on user study groups and meetings around different user workflows and did brainstorming sessions on features to enhance the product and user experience.
I was able to do these things because I took the initiative to ask to be included. It was incredibly rewarding—even when there were fires to be put out—because we received immediate feedback on what was working and what wasn’t. It kept me accountable and made me more mindful of what we were pushing out. I wanted to make sure the end users were happy and that we were building a product that made their lives easier.
I’m pretty sure being micromanaged is pretty high on the list of reasons people burn out and leave. It can be incredibly demoralizing to have someone hovering around you as if at any moment you’ll do irreversible damage. That’s how I’ve felt in the past. I already have enough of my own self-doubts with a forever shadow of imposter syndrome, which I have learned to embrace and use to my advantage. Thanks.
Now that I’ve experienced what it is like to work in an environment where trust was immediately given, it gave me the space to be creative and come up with solutions in a way that made sense to me, which was empowering. That trust extended to my teammates as well, and I grew to lean on them and ask them for their thoughts and opinions on almost everything. This was not out of insecurity or fear but out of accountability and inclusivity. I wanted to make sure that what we were building made sense to all of us because, as a team, we were responsible for all of it.
We were all owners, and together it was on all of us to ensure that we delivered what was promised and more. This led to very close collaborations, where on average, I paired with the same rotation of people at least once a day—even if it was just to hop on a call to ensure we were on the same page. Some of my favorite memories were with a team of people I worked with closely for 3 years. Other engineering teams heard about our team and how close and comfortable we were. Some even expressed jealousy around the camaraderie and fun atmosphere we had built.
As a dev, there’s a general path for growth and opportunity which doesn’t really deviate from what we do fundamentally. However, it has been my experience that when you’re collaborating with so many different parts of the organization, you get exposed to all sorts of things. For some, it can create a desire to explore a different position entirely or even a desire for some type of hybrid role that doesn’t currently exist.
When companies invest in their employees, it can oftentimes lead to the creation of new roles, so the individual is continuously inspired and encouraged and excited. This also solidifies how important it is to include other people’s perspectives and experiences in the mix.
I am grateful that at my previous company, I gained strong project management and product management skills because it was required and expected of me. As a result, I feel like consulting came to me pretty naturally. One of my favorite topics to read about on the side is behavioral economics. I am very curious about team dynamics and individual behaviors. I feel fortunate to observe other companies’ processes, team management, leadership, etc. I honestly find it very exciting and something to look forward to.
Whatever it may be that sparks excitement and interest in you, there are companies out there that are interested in helping you explore those areas. There are companies out there that can help you grow. There are companies out there who will encourage and empower you to find new ways to contribute.
It was in these types of environments that I was given full autonomy to make the most immediate impact on what we were building. As a result, I gained skills to build a better product—so we weren’t asking in every other planning meeting why we were building yet another modal—and what we were going to do moving forward to better serve our customers.