Claudiu Persoiu

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Guide to motivating programmers OR How to provide coders with a real challenge

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motivationIT is probably one of the most dynamic fields in the job market and people are a very important yet limited resource.

And yet people come and go quite often, and most of them are complaining about the lack of motivation.

This problem will end now with this simple guide for motivating programmers and not only them!

Programmers need challenging problems, they keep saying all the time that they need more challenges, don’t they?

Give your coder a true challenge! Make him get specifications from a client that doesn’t know what he wants, let him struggle, you could even try leaving him do this by himself, let him feel the adrenaline of a true challenge!

It must be noted that a programmer is nothing more than a repressed Project Manager, give him a chance to express!

However, you should not stop with that, because there is no greater challenge than to work on multiple assignments at the same time. A good idea for raising complexity is to offer him the chance to work on multiple projects in parallel. Give him the opportunity to have his mind busy with different things, diversity is always good, isn’t it?

A little secret for exploring diversity at its fullest is for him to have different roles on different projects, maybe have him alternate a project that requires management with one that requires maintenance. It’s a shame to not have enough diversity!

Is he writing a lot of code? You have to do something about it! When a programmer is focused working on something, keep in mind that he’s actually desperately crying for attention. You have to do something to break this vicious circle, it’s your duty as a manager to save him!

You have to find a way to interrupt him: try with a few meeting, they always help. If he is looking eager to get out of a meeting, it’s just a sign that he wants to get into the next one!

In time, you’ll see that the better a developer is at writing code, the more he’ll wish not to have time for it anymore. However, he’s not going to tell you this, or, even if he does, it’s because he really doesn’t know what he truly desires.

And eventually, if he likes to write code so much, maybe you should take it to the next level and get him to test it on his own. After all, if he wrote it, who would know better how to test it?
There is one more thing to mention in the context of a challenge. When a programmer is coming to an interview, he will always say “I want to learn new things”. How do you apply in real life this desire? Simple, you have to make him work on something that he doesn’t know anything about! This way you will present him with something that’s at the same time new and challenging. Is he a PHP programmer? Good for him, now give him a Java project! Is he a Java programmer? Nothing could be simpler, give him something to do in Objective-C! Maybe sometimes it will be hard to find new technologies the are completely unfamiliar to him, but a programmer’s happiness is not an easy thing to obtain!

Try not to fall in the trap of offering salaries that are correlated with the position he applied for. Don’t worry, the salary is confidential, nobody talks about it. Especially not when he recommends a friend, he will definitely not inquire about the salary that was offered to said friend, if confidential. It would be a lack of professional ethics to try to find out, you really don’t have to worry about it.

And speaking of interviews, maybe you think that hiring processes should lead to meaningful results and qualified candidates. You couldn’t be more wrong, because what do you truly need? Like I’ve said before: Diversity! Not long ago I’ve read an article about some chinese companies hiring beautiful women to make the work environment more enjoyable and stimulating. You have to always find ways to integrate the new tendencies, and if the only open positions that you have are for technical jobs, you have to work with what you have. Maybe you think hiring based on looks can be problematic sometimes, especially when the jobs are technical. In this cases you have to realise that motivation has to be designed at a large scale. Yes, maybe some teams will require more time to adapt to this kind of new team members, however if that person has done something worth mentioning in any way, it means you’ve done a great job!

Let’s not forget about trainings and conferences. When did you last talk with a programmer saying that he doesn’t want to go to trainings or specialised conferences?

Motivation has to be maintained like any other desire. There are two components to it: wishing for something, and not least, not getting the something that is desired. If you wish for something it’s because you don’t have it yet, right?

If you didn’t already understand, the solution is simple: don’t let him have the something that he wants, so that he will be perpetually motivated to work hard in order to get it. He wants a training? Organise the training then make sure you are sending there the persons that are the least interested in it. He will see that he has a chance, but it wasn’t his turn right now.

Maybe this will sometimes be a challenge for management, but with a lot of carefulness it can be made possible! Keep the desire alive!

Another advice in regards to trainings: to keep the desire alive it is useful to send him to trainings in which he isn’t interested, but in which somebody else is interested. This way you will always have employees interested in trainings and having trainings, and also motivated!

When he is working he shouldn’t be able to see the usefulness of his work, it is very important. If he will see it, how can he be motivated still? It’s like climbing a mountain, no climber is motivated to go on if he knows how high he already is. You must be careful not to let him know where he is standing: keep those statistics and progress reports well hidden, because if he gets to have a feeling of ending, of target reached, of goal achieved, how would it be a true challenge then?

And don’t forget to not show him trust, he must build it for himself. You should provide him with a target and then keep it just a target. Indeed, a target achieved provokes pleasure and the satisfaction of a job well done, but is that what you want to show? Think about it, each time you congratulate him for his work will he be more motivated? Why try to stimulate him to improve when you can stimulate him to reach a target that he can’t. Don’t show him you trust him, let him struggle, let him feel the challenge.

In Romania we have a saying: “the known road is the shortest”. Regardless, some try to automate rudimentary tasks. Basically they are trying to eliminate the known road. Actually, if you prevent him from automating processes you are helping him remain busy, to have a busy mind, and a busy mind is an active mind!

And, secondly, with this approach you are helping him maintain his work place. Maybe he doesn’t realise it, but he will lose his purpose when he will remove exactly the tasks which, eventually, he knew so well, because he made them so many times… Programmer or not, he mustn’t be replaced by a robot!

Thirdly, it’s the satisfaction you get of walking the known road – don’t let him divert from it, because, it’s so well known that it should be finished quickly enough.

And never forget that you must teach him the importance of management. He must see that you can help him, that you are the key to his success and happiness. To show this it is very important to trust yourself. Try to organise a party and don’t invite him. Nothing says more “I could’ve been there” than not being there.

Another way is to organise a business trip in an exotic location. Don’t worry, it’s not important to actually have something to do there. While you’re there, don’t forget to have fun, it is very important for him to know that you’re enjoying yourself. When it gets though, you have to remember that you’re not doing this for you, you are doing your best to have fun for his and his imagination’s benefit!

Maybe some suggestions will not work for everybody, but you have to combine as many of them as possible to have a real success and keep your programmers truly motivated!

Don’t try to identify this utopian world, because any resemblance with the daily reality is purely coincidental.

Written by Claudiu Persoiu

4 April 2016 at 9:39 PM

Posted in Diverse

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