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What makes devs happy is no longer a mystery: the 2022 Developer Happiness Report is in

Like most modern software companies, at Zenhub, building positive developer experiences is imperative to our success. It is an essential part of developing our product for our software developer users, whose satisfaction is the North Star of everything we do here, and our engineering team, who make all the magic happen.

Also, like most modern companies, we’re not immune to the fact that there is undoubtedly a shortage of developer talent. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, in America alone, there are over 1.4 million software development jobs than applicants that can fill them. For tech leads and HR professionals aiming to attract and retain their developer talent, the pressure is on to answer one small but not-so-easy question: “How can we make developers happier at work?”

This year, we decided to answer it: introducing the 2022 Developer Happiness Report, a survey we conducted of 380 developers worldwide to understand what satisfies and fulfills them in their work lives.

The Developer Happiness Report answers not only what makes developers happy at work but digs into how we can create and sustain developer job satisfaction, giving actionable recommendations into:

  • What has the most significant influence on developers’ job satisfaction
  • Developer attitudes towards various forms of compensation
  • Developer satisfaction with work relationships and collaboration
  • Developer’s preferred work environments
  • And much more

When we conducted this research, we weren’t sure what to expect. But, giving developers a space to be honest about their work lives has opened the floodgates for game-changing revelations into how we, as tech leaders, can encourage more productive and happier developers.

We’re so excited to share this data with you and our recommendations on how you and your organization can action these insights for a more competitive edge. In this article, we’ll give you a taste of some insights we uncovered in this extensive research and some thoughts from several tech leaders on what this data could mean.

Most developers aren’t sure how long they’ll stay at their job

If there’s one thing we learned from this survey, it is just how crucial prioritizing developer happiness is for employee retention. According to our survey results, 71% of developers haven’t decided how long they will stay at their current jobs, and the average developer has 1 job for every 4 years of experience.

While 1 job for every 4 years of experience may seem reasonable, the uncertainty of one’s tenure may be alarming, as it can indicate an openness to other opportunities. But, for the optimistic employer, it could be seen as an opportunity to lean further into what’s keeping developers from leaving. Hint: it might have a lot to do with work-life balance.

Work-life balance is the number one reason employees stay at a company (not pay!)

Software engineering is known to be a lucrative career path, yet, according to our data, “Good pay” is not the number one reason developers choose to stay at their current jobs (though it tied second with “Quality of projects”). What could be better? Work-life balance – 24% of developers rate work-life balance as the “biggest factor in staying with their current employer.”

Interestingly, the more experienced the developer is, the more they value work-life balance: 35% of developers with 10+ years of experience place the highest value on work-life balance, compared to 18% of less experienced developers. This result could be because more experienced developers may have already reached a satisfying pay grade or may be more likely to have families at this point in their careers and desire more free time than junior developers.

Although pay is not considered the most important reason for staying at an organization, it’s important to note that 73% of developers with the highest job satisfaction have received an appreciable pay increase in the past year.

So, how can we make sense of this? Peter Sorbo, co-founder, and CTO of Enso Connect, reflects on his experience leading teams of developers: “While I agree that a significant pay increase is a big factor in software developers’ job satisfaction, I think that the main motivator here is actually the recognition of their achievements.” Peter is likely on to something – after all, it’s important to remember that compensation for many is more than just a number – it’s an indicator of achievement.

How developers spend their time at work has a big impact on their happiness

Even though a developer’s primary tasks *should* be coding and software design, many still feel they aren’t getting enough time for deep work: 44% of developers report spending too much time in meetings. If you’re considering implementing productivity tools that can take devs away from meetings and other time-consuming forms of collaboration, now is the time – 93% of devs agree productivity tools improve the quality of collaboration.

What many tech leaders have been witnessing for a long time is finally backed by data: “It’s been my experience that hiring the best developers and retaining them takes the discipline to let them focus on coding and allow for some freedom,” says Shri Ganeshram, CEO and founder, of Awning. Indeed, 49% of developers prefer to spend most of their time coding, and 49% prefer to spend most of their time on software design tasks.

Beyond having the time to spend on coding and design, developers also want the freedom to work on projects that interest and challenge them. According to the survey results, 27% of developers stated that the biggest reason for staying at their current job was the quality of their projects.

Where developers are the happiest working comes down to the individual

Few things in the software development world are more divisive than remote vs. in-office work (apparently!) – just 51% of devs stated that they feel most productive where they typically work. The results feel even more inconclusive when you look at how they feel about remote vs. in-office work, with even the hybrid model getting only a 38% approval rating from devs. This result may seem surprising, but let’s not forget that even hybrid models can lack flexibility, with many still necessitating some in-office time.

Tech leaders were also surprised at the data: “This is great research. However, I was surprised to find 54% of developers prefer to work at the office,” says Slava Todavchich, CEO at Moqod. “I assumed this number was less since remote work means flexibility and work-life balance for employees. It must be true that some programmers want to have the office vibe,” remarks Todavchich.

The takeaway? Give developers maximum flexibility to work where they feel most productive. The team at Moqod already has some ideas of what this could look like: “As an Amsterdam-based company that nearshores devs from Eastern European countries, we offer refunds for co-working spaces. I think it’s one more thing that makes developers happier,” says Todavchich. There are many ways to cater to developers’ workplace preferences, from co-working space and work-from-home stipends to making in-office work optional rather than mandatory.

There’s a lot more to learn about developer happiness…

For most companies, developers are the backbone of innovation, and keeping them happy can do much for our products, our teams, and our customers, but understanding what keeps them happy doesn’t have to stop here.

Beyond what we’ve discussed in this article, the full Developer Happiness report covers how to create positive developer experiences ad nauseam, providing deeper insights into how devs like to spend their time, how they feel about their relationships at work, developer compensation, and more. We also encourage you to dig inside your own teams and get curious about what makes them happiest at work.

We know that every developer is unique and that there is no way to entirely encompass all of their thoughts and feelings about the workplace into a single report. Still, we hope this report provides you and your colleagues with actionable insights to make informed decisions for your business and people. Download the full report here.

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