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Retaining Engineers At The Crossroads - A Framework For Examining Retention

Ashley Swanson

In the ever-growing competition for software engineers, tech companies need to get serious in optimizing for retention. At Edify we suggest that you look across the career path of your engineers—pre-hiring, onboarding, professional development—and examine the support structures and values you have in place that either encourage or discourage your engineers from staying with your company. These crossroads are where companies can better optimize their work culture for retention.

Not All Turnover Is Bad

First things first, not all retention data should be viewed in the same light. By understanding the motivations for why people leave, an organization can address the underlying issues that cause turnover. 

A company should celebrate healthy turnover, which prioritizes an employee’s success on their career path, even if that means they leave the organization. If your organization is building a healthy engineering culture, supported by manager coaches, when an engineer grows beyond the company, that should be celebrated as a win for both the company and the person.

But in the case when you’re losing employees that will continue to get value out of the company, and vice versa, it's time to dive into employee feedback and see what can be improved.


The hiring process is about creating an environment of belonging before anyone applies for a role. Things that go wrong in hiring can directly affect someone's tenure in a job.  

Retention problems in the pre-hiring phase often stem from a lack of clarity. If a new hire was sold a different version of their role than what’s expected, of course they’re going to feel disillusioned with your company. You’ve pulled the rug out from under them before they’ve barely had the chance to walk in the door.

The hiring process also needs to clearly explore the company’s mission, expectations, culture, and benefits, reiterated by the hiring managers throughout the interview process. It can be as little as listing the starting salary to creating coding tests that touch on your company’s mission. Keeping everyone on the same page gives that new hire a good idea of what to expect.

But remember that healthy turnover can help strengthen the pre-hiring process, thanks to word of mouth recommendations. An engineer leaving on supportive terms that embodies your engineering team’s mission is like sending out a team ambassador and recruiter for the next wave of engineers. 


One of the biggest tools to retain technical talent starts with good preparation: onboarding. A great onboarding process will successfully build support, connections, and learning as a cornerstone into an engineer’s success. 

A frustrating onboarding process does not bode well for their future engineering velocity and professional development. According to study by IBM, retention increased three-fold when new hires received training and development for their roles. 

The return on investment in engineering onboarding often speaks for itself. Developing a technical onboarding program for new hires means you’ve done the work to describe the values and engineering philosophy of your team in the role, so the recruiting team understands that they need to find someone who is both a technical fit and a good match for the working style of the engineering team.

Ongoing Development

Compensation often gets pointed at as the main reason software engineers leave a company, but it is a bit of red herring. Yes, it seems like a truism that a bigger pay number will always be better, but when software engineers give feedback about what matters to them, the data shows that they don't leave their jobs purely for compensation-based reasons. Career guidance, team culture, recognition, and flexibility matter far more. So while paying an engineer more might keep them for a little bit longer, it's only going to briefly cover up the real retention issues lurking below.

In the professional development phase, tech teams can miss out on the long-term benefits of incorporating professional training and continuous learning for their engineers into the day-to-day work environment. Building and retaining skills is vital for success in the tech industry, and engineers know it. Employees are 12 times more likely to consider leaving if they can’t achieve their career goals at their current organization.

Build Better Crossroads

Retention is an interesting challenge for tech companies because it is a both/and problem. Retention is influenced by the systems a company puts in place to hire, onboarding and develop employees; yet retention is also an individualized choice for people who want to grow and be valued for their work. 

Ultimately, employees are the ones who make the decision about staying: if the pros of a company outweigh the unknowns of trying someplace new. That’s why building better support structures at the crossroads of pre-hiring, onboarding and professional development can help tip the scales in engineering retention. These investments pay off in a cycle that feeds itself, with excited recruits, faster onboarding of new hires, and more engaged engineers for a stronger engineering team overall.

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