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Culture Check – Before Hiring, Understand Your Engineering Culture

Ashley Swanson

There’s never been an easy time to hire engineers, thanks to the highly competitive environment that’s more global and more mobile than ever. Add in the current trends of the Great Resignation, the hiring landscape is filled with greater challenges, and better opportunities to entice engineers to choose your organization. 

As a response to the Great Resignation, engineering leaders must critically evaluate why employees are re-evaluating their workplaces. A survey by Amdocs found that tech workers were actively quitting at an even higher rate than other industries. Contributing factors driving resignation include:

  • a lack of growth at a company
  • poor training programs with little options for career development
  • a desire for a better work/life balance

 A healthy engineering culture will make or break a company’s hiring goals. Before posting that job opening, the first step should be understanding the state of your current engineering culture. Your engineering culture is one of the most valuable recruiting tools to attract, retain and grow technical hires.

Culture Hallmarks

What are the hallmarks of a healthy engineering culture? Just defining the current characteristics in your team is important. Ask your current engineers their perceptions about the overall culture. What makes it good? What could be improved? 

Even beyond hiring, conducting a survey will help clarify if you are living up to your current culture goals. It's important to recognize that people are what make up the culture of a company. And groups of people perceive culture through their own individual lenses. 

Goal Transparency

The first hallmark of a healthy engineering culture: goal transparency. Engineering teams need a clear north star that guides their work. Do your engineers understand how their work contributes to various team and company goals? A positive developer experience is built around knowing that their output has a positive impact. A transparent culture makes it clear what value an engineer’s productivity brings and how it directly contributes to personal, team, and company successes. Being transparent makes it easier for engineers to build personal meaning, ambition, and success into their careers.

When setting big picture goals, technical leaders can show their work by explaining their decision-making process. This is part of inclusive leadership, because those outside of the decision-making are able to see the entire thought process. Instead of decisions just appearing from a black box, leaders can confidently point towards a goal and employees will understand the reasoning behind the direction. 

By bringing context and transparency into an engineering culture, it also respects the autonomy of your engineers. Instead of just hoping engineers will ‘get it,’ developers are given more agency, resulting in a more holistic understanding of how their roles and responsibilities contribute to engineering productivity. 

Unblocking Engineering Workflows

Being transparent about a team’s goals naturally encourages an investment in developer velocity. Because engineers know what to drive for, there is no ambiguity blocking the way. Rapid developer velocity requires a flexible, autonomous workflow with investment in agile tools and automated technologies.

Another element of a healthy engineering culture is an unblocked workflow. Engineers like feeling free to do their work. Engineers are creative problem-solvers by nature. They want to be able to jump into problems and be rewarded with how their solutions help connect to larger company goals. The developer experience of tools, architecture, process, and methodologies is equally important in creating a good engineering flow. DevOps tools directly influence and inform a team’s engineering culture.

Inclusive technical leaders clear the way for their developers productivity, and understand the management methods that empower engineers. Managers shield engineers from a lot of the bureaucratic work that comes with working at a company — from too many meetings to email reminders. Company programs that support engineers outside of work become vital to blocking other stressors. Support programs that address working parents, employee mental health, equity and diversity all help untangle power structures that impede people in different ways. 

This combination of developer tools and a communicative environment helps pave the way through tangled, thorny work towards greater success. 

Team Development

Another quality of a strong engineering culture is team development. How does the team communicate and what are a team’s shared expectations?  How should engineers expect to be treated in the workplace, what are the norms and behaviors that are currently encouraged? An equitable onboarding process can help explain team structures. The building blocks of a functional engineering team should encourage choice, collaboration, and shared alignment.

Many engineering teams will place their focus on outcomes—what an engineer is trying to accomplish—over outputs. Avoiding an engineer experience that resembles a feature factory instead of a creative problem-solving lab makes for happier developers.

The developer experience should have a lot of cross-functional collaboration, so they directly understand the needs of users, designers, product managers, and other stakeholders for a more holistic approach to their workflow. 

Whether it’s a remote-first workplace or a hybrid mix of the home and office, the team interactions are what help fuel a feeling of engagement at work. It can be a bad sign if an individual engineer is off by themselves without support. Multiple teams of one can create an unhealthy dynamic. In isolation, an engineer never really understands how to contribute in a team setting, how they might cultivate their skills, or how to stay connected with the broader organization.

Much of an engineering team’s active culture is dependent on management buy-in and support. While having a clear structure and a workflow that empowers individual engineers, engineering managers are the ones who make sure a team’s alignment, coaching and skill training are actively being promoted.  A work culture that makes space for coaching and skill building—even during a sprint—helps emphasize an individual engineer’s value and creativity.

Offering these clear paths during the onboarding process can help offset engineer isolation. An onboarding buddy system helps build integration between current and new engineers. An onboarding buddy will translate a team’s norms and workflow to a new engineer far better than a hiring manager. If the team fosters a sense of belonging, everyone is creating the workplace they want to be in—and stay in.

Convey your culture through onboarding

Healthier engineering cultures will always attract more developers, inspire engagement, and give engineers the confidence to tackle creative, fulfilling work. Investing in a technical onboarding plan helps perpetuate a good engineering culture through the hiring process. 

Edify's onboarding tools help support new engineers with tailored learning methods, so individual engineers feel engaged and confident in their new roles. Our process also supports tech leaders as they bring on multiple new hires without overwhelming developer teams. 

An onboarding plan that’s integrated with the engineering culture pays dividends with better recruitment, more engaged hires and developing long-term experts in your company.

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