Leave a Light On

When Bored Developers Become Frustrated

Leave a Light On


When Bored Developers Become Frustrated


Coders want to spend the majority of their time coding. It may sound like a rather obvious statement. Yet it remains the case that we struggle to balance the coding to release management ratio. Developers are comfortable performing other tasks besides, but the value needs to be clear.


Bored Woman


Identifying the signs of unhappy developers and acting on them promptly is the key to keeping the best people around


I’ve spent significant time over the past week talking to unhappy developers. Disengaged developers. Each in different stages of unhappiness. All tackling their frustrations in different ways. It is true that bored people quit, but disheartened people quit too. Here I reflect on how such discontent manifests and the signs to look out for to keep your best developers around.


Are We Human, or Are We Developer?


When reading Managing Humans by Michael Lopp a few years ago, one chapter in particular struck a chord with me. Bored People Quit. In hindsight it was mainly because I myself was bored at work. I desperately needed a change.


Recent events have got me thinking about that time again. Reflecting on prior experiences has certainly helped me establish different techniques for supporting those who reach out for help. I re-read the chapter this week to help reflect on my handling of each situation.


Hunting the Apathy Grail


Identifying the signs early is important to prevent boredom transforming into anger. As managers we should always be on the lookout for changes in behaviour. We should always ask questions to assess their engagement with their daily work. Classic traits highlighted in this chapter include changes in schedule such as last minute vacation and changes to working hours.


> The goal here is to discover boredom before they know it, and the act of a > simple question might be just the mental impetus they need to see the early > signs in themselves. > > Michael Lopp, Managing Humans


In the slightly more modern age of flexible working, consider the frequency of work from home days. It is not an exact science. Nevertheless it can also suggest your rock star is participating in initial stage interviews and coding exercises. Quite often it can be a sign of other life events. Even those we should be on the lookout for as managers to ensure we provide the necessary support to retain our top talent.


Thinking back now, I regrettably see the tipping point more clearly in at least one case. Handling these effectively will build loyalty. Get it wrong and you could cultivate resentment instead.


Foster the Frustration


What are the key activities that cause boredom and frustration to fester? Lack of toys to tinker with is definitely the most common one I have experienced in my not so recent past. Software development is not just limited to spending endless days locked in a cupboard writing code. Talented developers are always happy to own development and release management tasks if the balance is right. Admin needs to be seen as a valuable and concise set of steps, rather than a wall between them and reaching coding nirvana.


Governments and large organisations alike love to apply processes to feel in control. Paperwork is a necessary evil. In regulated environments such as mine, management often struggle to consider the volume and effect. This can lead us to enforce waterfall artefacts on top to give management security, regardless of Agile adoption. Regulated environments such as ours can still cultivate agility. Working software over comprehensive documentation is baked into the principle because it is the main item of progress for developers and clients alike. If it takes several hours just to go through the motions and get the paperwork together, we may need to rethink the balance.


Never too Late?


Boredom is frustrating, but being hounded when you don’t want to be saved is tedious. Scurrying around trying to convince someone to stay is not always the answer. You need to read the situation and determine what is your best course of action.




Managers should test the waters before pulling out all the steps. Some want to skip off into the sunset to find their happy ever job ending.


Some individuals do want to be saved. Some want to be woo’ed with you charging into battle to fight to keep them. But some quite simply just want to be left alone. For the latter, initiating a fight may be doing them a disservice. It may be more appropriate to let them go. Choosing to leave a role is a scary, exhilarating time. There are a lot of emotions at play. As a manager, the danger is that you’ll confuse them into staying and harbor resentment. Lopp is indeed right that once someone quits, they can do so again if they stay. The precedent has indeed been set by that point.


Keeping good people is hard. It is important to identify the signs early and support them with opportunities to grow. Constantly reinforce regardless of whether they are happy and frustrated that your door is always open. If they do end up growing, provide them with the support they need. When facing the unknown, people like to know that the door didn’t slam shut behind them if that rosy new role doesn’t quite pan out. Let them know that you will leave the light on.


Thanks for reading!

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