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Enablement Over Experience Tools - Improving Developer Engagement By Empowering Engineering Teams

Ashley Swanson

The past decade has seen the rise of operational tools for developers, with an emphasis on creating a better developer experience as a means of improving engineering team performance. The more recent growth of engineering operations and developer experience roles in software engineering teams shows that tooling alone is not adequately solving these challenges of developer experience, productivity, and satisfaction. 

Instead of asking, what tools do your engineering squads need to help them write code, the organization should ask what do developers need to do their best work?

We see a tendency towards reliance on developer productivity tools to create a great developer experience. There’s an outdated expectation that the developer tools will improve time to productivity metrics, but most of these tools don’t address the problems that impact an engineering team’s overall flow state. 

Most productivity tools focus on the code, and how it is deployed and maintained. But, for the engineer, productivity, performance, and job satisfaction aren’t exclusively tied to the dev toolkit. The answer is to focus on developer enablement, which influences developer velocity and an engineering team’s productivity. 

So what is developer enablement? And how can it impact developer experience and productivity?

Productivity Outside Code

Developer experience and developer enablement are two different aspects of the productivity coin. It can be easy to conflate the two, and fall into the assumption that addressing one will also influence the other. But that’s not the case. There are plenty of organizations that have invested in many developer tools, yet they still see the cost of lost productivity and struggling developers.

Developer experience describes the tools engineers use to write, review, and maintain code; the output of their work. Yet by some estimates developers spend a majority of their work time not writing code.

Developer enablement encompasses the organization of work, culture of work, and the overall environment in which the work is done. If developer productivity is measured by developer flow, where iteration and creativity intertwine effortlessly, then developer enablement is the toolset that creates the right state for developer flow.

How do we build the right tools and frameworks that can help enable engineering teams? Edify believes it starts with great onboarding, combined with deep team engagement, and an accessible knowledge base. This foundational framework combined with best practice processes, and tools is what builds productive engineering teams for the modern, remote workplace. 

Onboarding As Prep Work

A comprehensive technical onboarding program prepares new hires with the knowledge, processes, and context for their work. Onboarding enables learning through doing, with goals designed with both learning and functional results in mind. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of building an onboarding program, check out our guide.

Engineering onboarding is a foundation course for enabling developers, it introduces them to their environment in a holistic manner, making sure they are familiar with the norms and processes of approaching problems, the code, and their fellow engineers.

Measuring the success of an onboarding program can be a challenge. The question is not one of observability, but rather measuring the success of how onboarding enables learning and familiarity. It’s not enough to measure how quickly a new hire commits code. Understanding  how they think about what their code is trying to accomplish, and their confidence about the work are key to identifying flow breakdowns that stymie productivity. 

This prep work empowers new developers to take on their roles at a faster pace, by enabling them to be problem solvers in their new role.

Team Engagement

If technical onboarding is the foundation, team engagement is the practice. The individual developer experience is greatly affected by how deeply their team’s are empowered to learn and experiment together.

The rise of remote and distributed engineering teams has diminished a reliable tool for developer enablement: the shoulder tap at the desk. In the office, when questions arose or a problem appeared, direct in person collaboration between team members allowed developer teams to keep rapidly progressing. Today, isolated engineers stop work and often spend hours or days hunting for answers to previously addressed questions.

Developer experience teams can help bring that old school productivity tool into the asynchronous workplace by embracing practices and tooling to enable effective team mentorship and collaboration. By establishing new hire buddy programs, mentorship and pair programming opportunities, and

Experimentation and autonomy are the framework by which a team deepens their engagement to their work, because they have actual stakes in the outcome.

Creating A Knowledge Culture

There’s only so much time and energy an engineer has in a work day. Poor documentation wastes both, often pushing a developer steps backward from where they were. Nothing crashes a developer’s velocity faster than trying to unravel a riddle in the doc repo.

Create an engineering culture that values clear, simple code and well-explained documentation. There are multiple ways to incorporate knowledge into the engineering process, from documentation updates as part of code reviews, providing templates, or even dedicated team “documentation days.”

Having knowledge ready and waiting for developers is the very description of a flow state. It’s why developer tools that provide the same service for code are so valued in the developer experience. Outside of code, a knowledge base that is easy to explore and that inspires learning is equally as important. 

Our Developer Enablement Tools

Edify can help engineering organizations create this foundational framework for developer enablement, and improve their engineering team’s experience. We help you build a fully customizable technical onboarding program for your developers. Our toolset guides you through discovering your team’s foundational knowledge, without recreating your doc repo, and helps you keep it up to date, getting rid of stale and disconnected data. 

Engineering teams using this framework can build and scale developer enablement practices into their core workflow to create better developer experience, decrease employee turnover, and improve product development.

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