In the coming decade, the winners will be companies that build the best software—which really means, the companies with the best software developers.
As leaders, it’s our job to connect the company’s greater mission to the work our technical teams are doing. Everybody has parts of their job they love, and parts they loathe, and developers are no different.
So when a developer is in the drudgery of debugging legacy code or writing tests or waking up when the pager goes off—purpose is what makes these moments tolerable and even sometimes interesting.
Knowing that customers and your coworkers depend on you, and that you’re changing the direction of your organization and those around you, is a powerful motivator. In fact, the more people who are touched by your work, oftentimes the greater the purpose. And the amazing thing about software is the scale. Writing code that will be used by millions or even billions of people is powerful. Very few professions share the same sense of scale or impact. That’s why developers are particularly motivated by purpose.
What if you’re not hiring computer scientists to build top-secret, world-changing, new products? How do you make your company sound sexy? How do you convince a new computer science graduate to work for your company instead of going to that cool startup down the road?
First of all, you do have a CEO and other executives, and when you’re recruiting top technology talent, they should be involved. Ideally your CEO already knows why technology is important to the company, intends to work closely with your top technologists, and therefore already intends to be part of the recruiting process. If the top brass don’t show up, smart technologists will realize that their work isn’t central to the company—and they probably won’t come to work for you. It’s easy for executives to exclaim “we’re on a path to digital transformation” because it sounds good, but to really embark on this journey, leadership has to be invested in the process and, more important, the people who will make it a reality.
The challenge is how to make engineers aware of these problems and get them excited about solving them. Again this all comes back to explaining the mission—and making it seem compelling. That’s why in every spy movie there’s a scene early on where the hero gets called to a meeting and told about the next mission. You’ll notice that the mission isn’t usually something like “We want you to come in every day for the next 30 years and sit at a desk and do something boring that you don’t really care about. And if you fail, it’s no big deal because nothing bad will happen.” No! The bad guys have a nuke! The clock is ticking! If you fail, the world will be destroyed!
Storytellers call this the hero’s journey. It begins when main characters receive the call to action and embark on adventures that challenge their abilities and force them to overcome obstacles. Rocky Balboa’s call to action happens when he gets offered a fight with Apollo Creed.
To be a good recruiter you need to present your version of the hero’s journey. What do we do here? What challenges are we facing? Why is our work important? Why should you care about your job? What’s at stake? Why will you be excited to come to work every day?
For midcareer developers you can offer a chance to grow and develop new skills—just at a time when some might start to feel stagnant or stuck with skills that are becoming less relevant. In other words—mastery. Show them that they can expand their skills and learn new languages, design and write new apps and put them into production.
At Twilio, I know we’ve recruited many developers who had offers at Google, Facebook and the like. For us, the compelling pitch was our small-teams approach, which enables all three facets of autonomy, mastery and purpose. When you can be yet another cog in the machine or a key member of a small but important team—many developers find the latter is a pretty compelling opportunity.
Excerpted from Ask Your Developer: How to Harness the Power of Software Developers and Win in the 21st Century. Copyright © 2021 by Jeff Lawson. The book was published on January 12, 2021, by Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.