How to lose a software developer in 10 weeks


When you’ve just spent 3 months and thousands of dollars hiring a new software developer, the last thing you need is for your new hire to quit your organization within a month of joining.

Before you know it, your boss is breathing down your neck, already delayed projects fall further behind, you have to re-engage that expensive freelancer, and already exhausted staff are now asked to back-fill, again. And to top it all off, while you are reeling from your programmer’s defection, you, the hiring manager, have to start the whole hiring process again. As if you needed more work!

The sad fact is that most software managers will experience this situation from time to time; research shows that about 20% of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days. The first 2 to 3 months in a job is an unsettled period where new developers are at high risk of being turned off the job and quitting.

The good news is that this premature turnover among developers can be avoided, or at least reduced significantly, by avoiding these counter-productive actions that are known to drive developers away:

Give them ALL the boring work

This strongly upvoted discussion thread on Quora about why programmers quit had ‘monotonous work’ as the number one reason that developers quit.

Now, we hear you; “Work can’t always be cool; there are boring bits to any job, that’s life; new hires shouldn’t expect to just moonwalk into all the ‘sexiest’ projects from day one.”

That’s a reasonable view of course, but if you overload your new software developer hires with the monotonous work without showing them a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a big risk of them becoming disengaged and quitting after finding more interesting work.

By all means, feel free to give new hires the monotonous work to begin with, but also give them interesting work alongside it, or at least the hope of better work to come, so they remain optimistic about the future.

Work them into the ground

When your organization has been understaffed for a while, it may mean dealing with late projects and disappointed customers. As a result, desperation can lead you to start over-working your new hire from day one, chucking them straight into the deep-end on an overdue project that demands back-breaking 60 hour weeks.

This will be a bad omen for any new software developer hire, most of who will have read the research or heard the gossip about the extreme burnout problem in the software industry and most certainly will not want to become a casualty of extreme overwork.

In fact, this article by a former progammer highlighted that stress and overload were the main reasons that they left the profession. If you overload your new developer from day one, don’t be surprised if they take off after a month or two.

Developers want to work hard, but they don’t want to become a burnout statistic and will be wary of software companies that consistently over-work their programmers. Try and give your new developers a challenging but reasonable work-load that’s achievable within a 40-50 hour working week.

Continually look over their shoulder

When a new software developer arrives, you simply don’t have the trust and rapport that you have with existing developers, and it can be tempting to micromanage them and keep looking over their shoulder. The problem is that developers tend to hate being micromanaged, and in the aforementioned Quora discussion, ‘a sense of Autonomy and Mastery’ was seen as a crucial aspect to enjoying a role. This means that developers want control over their work, the ability to make decisions without consulting anyone, and to have a sense of mastery over what they do. If you micromanage your new developers too hard, you’ll undermine their sense of autonomy and mastery, giving them strong motivation to quit the job.

While you may need to micromanage more in the early days of a new hire, be careful not to stifle them by ensuring you allow them some space, and let them know that this micromanagement is a temporary feature of the on-boarding process and more autonomous working will follow shortly.

Drown them in corporate targets

All developers understand that they need to hit targets. But corporate targets like ‘profit’ or ‘realized revenue’ are necessary evils to developers and if you overwhelm your new hires with management speak and corporate goals you’ll turn them right off and risk some early exits.

What developers love, and are inspired by, are higher goals, so it’s vital that you give them a sense of purpose if you are to engage them, e.g. they are the first to use a new piece of technology, the first to use this method, or they are pioneering a new product or service. If you give them an inspiring vision, chances are they will want to stick around to see it realized.

It can seem like a lot of hard work to create a fertile environment for new developers, and you might be thinking, “it’s not worth the effort and if they want to go, they can go, and we’ll get a new one, what’s the problem?” There’s a big problem with that approach as research shows that it costs 6 to 9 months salary on average to replace a salaried employee which comes to around $45,000 to $67,500 in recruiting and training costs.  And if you want to avoid incurring these huge software developer replacements costs, try enhancing your approach to on-boarding using some of the tips suggested above.

Quick reminder: Our cost of vacancy calculators are a great way to estimate how much revenue you could be losing out on by keeping an unfilled position for too long or if an employee decides to call it quits. If you think your organization might benefit from an efficient and quick hiring process, don’t hesitate to connect with one of our recruiters today.

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