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Forget Fancy Chefs and Foosball — What Developers Really Want is Balance and Growth

The following piece was originally published in Hackernoon by Jawahar Malhotra, SVP of Engineering at HackerRank.


By 2026, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be a 24 percent increase in the number of software development jobs available, making this one of the fastest growing occupations. In the US alone, there are nearly 500,000 open computing jobs. Companies are now worrying more about access to software developers than capital.

Given the high demand for developers, companies are offering benefits like free meals, rides home from work, in-house gyms, on-call doctors and laundry services in order to attract the best technical talent. But developers can also see that many of these perks, which are seemingly making their lives easier, are really just tactics to keep them at their desks longer.

In order to attract great software engineers, you have to listen to what they’re looking for, and truly understand them. HackerRank asked over 70,000 developers from more than 100 countries about what they really care about, what motivates them and what they want in a job. The findings offer unprecedented insight into the DNA of today’s software developers — let’s take a look.

Learning & growth is vital

What we found is that developers actually don’t care about the things most companies are promoting in their careers pages. Professional growth and learning was the #1 factor junior and senior developers looked for when choosing a job. 

Developers are voracious, lifelong learners by nature and necessity, given tech’s rapidly changing pace. They’re genuinely curious about new programming languages, frameworks and new technologies, and will get bored if they’re in a role that doesn’t allow for continuous learning and new challenges. 

As hiring managers and employers, you’re accountable for injecting these types of opportunities into the day-to-day work of your developers. Google realized this early on, and paved the way to build a strong developer brand centered on learning and experimentation. The company’s classic 20 percent model, which allows employees to spend one-fifth of their time on their own projects, has directly resulted in things like Gmail. This is inspiring. In fact, in 2013, half of all of Google’s actual products had begun life as 20 percent projects. 

While not every company can afford to let its employees spend one day a week working on personal projects, there are other ways to channel that ethos. Consider hosting quarterly hackathons, where your teams get to build whatever they want. Another way to do this is to sponsor the infrastructure costs for your developers’ side projects and support their contributions to open source. These give developers opportunities to grow and learn, and such efforts can frequently lead to line-of-business innovation.

It’s about life, not just hours at work

Developers also want to learn and grow outside of the workplace – about 46 percent of junior developers and 45 percent of senior developers reported that work-life balance is critical when assessing job opportunities. It goes hand-in-hand with software engineers’ desire to keep learning and experimenting at their current job, while also giving them the time to learn on their own and work on their personal side projects.

However, we all too often see employers who require developers to be on call after work and on weekends, causing major burnout. Unsurprisingly, studies continue to show that burnout leads to a decrease in productivity, high turnover and even health concerns. To avoid this, it’s critical that companies offer flexible hours, remote work schedules, and focus on outcomes — not hours worked.

Developers want the freedom to work whenever or wherever they’re inspired, passionate and determined to solve exciting challenges. Ultimately, they are more likely to learn and grow (and be your biggest asset) when they have schedules that optimize for their productivity and happiness. 

It starts with the interview

Companies need to be deliberate in how they attract and retain developer talent, starting with the interview. Our data found that 68 percent of developers were most likely to be turned off by employers who don’t provide enough clarity around roles or where they’ll be placed. If you can’t demonstrate with some level of certainty what your company’s expectations are of a candidate and what projects they’ll be working on, that’s a surefire way to lose top talent in today’s competitive market.

Which companies should take note? All of them…

Every company is or is becoming a software company, and developers have become the most in-demand role in an already hot IT jobs market. If companies want to attract top talent, they’ll need to build a culture that prioritizes what developers really want: clarity around their role and growth trajectory, and interesting work that challenges them, but does not follow them home at night. 


Want more insights on what developers look for in a job? Check out the findings from our 2019 Developer Skills Report, featuring insights from our survey of over 70,000 developers: 

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