Why do Software Engineers Quit?

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Why do Software Engineers Quit?
Caroline Gleeson
3 minute read
Employee Retention

Let's discuss the top 5 reasons you're losing tech talent...

Technology

The best engineers are passionate about innovation and improving their own technical expertise. For this reason, some important criteria when choosing a new position is the technical environment in which they’ll operate. Therefore, if your company is using outdated technology or bad engineering practices they will be motivated to leave and join a more innovative company. 

If your company is mature, it can be challenging to revamp your technical environment, architecture or development methodology. It is good practice to sit down with your engineers and truly understand what technologies they’re passionate about and get their feedback around how they would improve the existing processes that exist within your team. If it's impossible to satisfy those criteria, it may make sense to see if there are any other teams or products within your company where that engineer would be a better fit.  

why do software engineers quit

Personal goals don't match company goals

There are many different goals available to software engineers and no two engineers are the same. Having a one size fits all approach will not be sufficient.  

For example, an engineer may want to: 

  • Move into a management role.
  • Become an expert in a specific technology 
  • Move their career in a more commercially orientated direction
  • Focus on personal projects or open source 

Understanding these areas will help you set your goals with your engineering teams helping them remain motivated and valued.

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Career growth

Engineers are typically analytical and will often optimise for career growth. For this reason, having an ambiguous or inconsistent job level structure will result in engineers not wanting to progress within your company.  Create clear specific levels and job titles with defined scope and responsibilities with a coherent path on how to progress, leading to more clarity and commitment.

Here is an example of a generic levelling structure: 

Software engineering intern > Junior engineer > Engineer > Senior engineer > Principal engineer > Staff engineer > Senior staff engineer 

The scope of responsibility can vary depending of whatever makes sense for your company. Whether that’s having a more strategic input, leadership responsibilities or working on product direction. What is important though is that you have very specific criteria and this is applied fairly and consistently across the company. 

Salary & Benefits

No matter who you are, your technical environment or company culture, there is always another company within your market who want to poach your engineers. Their recruiters will call your engineers and if they are offering salary packages that are superior to yours, your engineer will feel undervalued and be extremely tempted to leave.  

Further to this, if the market has increased the average salary for an engineer and you're offering your new hires a higher salary package than your existing employees, they will find out and they will leave your company. Review your salaries regularly and ensure you are meeting market value. Benefits have also become the tipping point for many companies, ensure you are offering desirable benefits to your employees, that might be pension or equity. Speak with your engineers and find out what benefits are most important to them. This can be the difference in you winning top talent and losing your best engineers to your competitors.

why do software engineers quit

Engineering culture

Engineers like to be led by engineers. If your engineers report to non-technical business stakeholders who do not truly understand what they do they will become frustrated and they will leave. Beyond that, standards will fall.

Even though they are consistently shipping code and new products you will have no overview as to whether they're building technical debt or an unreadable codebase that leaves your company open to failure if that one engineer who knows the system ever leaves.

If your engineers are reporting up to the CTO who is focusing on business activities such as investors or strategy, strongly consider hiring a VP of engineering who can make sure these systems are being developed on time and are scalable.

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Summary Points

The top 5 reason software engineers quit:

  • Technology: The best engineers are passionate about innovation and improving their own technical expertise. For this reason, some important criteria when choosing a new position is the technical environment in which they’ll operate. Therefore, if your company is using outdated technology or bad engineering practices they will be motivated to leave and join a more innovative company. 
  • Personal goals don't match company goals: There are many different goals available to software engineers and no two engineers are the same. Having a one size fits all approach will not be sufficient. Educate yourself on what your engineers want and this will help you set your goals with your software engineering teams helping them to remain motivated and valued.
  • Career growth: The scope of responsibility can vary depending of whatever makes sense for your company. Whether that’s having a more strategic input, leadership responsibilities or working on product direction. What is important though is that you have very specific criteria and this is applied fairly and consistently across the company. 
  • Salary: If the market has increased the average salary for an engineer and you're offering your new hires a higher salary package than your existing employees, they will find out and they will leave your company. Review your salaries regularly and give your existing engineers raises to bring them up to the existing market rate. 
  • Engineering culture: Engineers like to be led by engineers. If your engineers report to non-technical business stakeholders who do not truly understand what they do they will become frustrated and they will leave. Beyond that, standards will fall. If your engineers are reporting up to the CTO who is focusing on business activities such as investors or strategy, strongly consider hiring a VP of engineering who can make sure these systems are being developed on time and are scalable.
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