This article is part of a VB Lab Insights series paid for by Capital One.
Truly high-performing technology teams obsess over the developer experience, empower engineers to focus on work that matters, and prioritize diverse perspectives.
While great technology organizations invest heavily in building developers’ skills, they know that skill-building is just one piece of the puzzle. Elevating the entire developer experience is imperative to creating a truly well-rounded environment in which developers can learn, grow and thrive.
A developer’s job isn’t just to churn out code every single day; they each have a unique career journey and style of work that needs to be supported in a holistic way. What makes someone stay in their role has a lot to do with how that person’s psychological needs are being met. One thing we’ve learned through this pandemic is that there is a higher-order attachment with the work people do. Developers need to feel good about what gets them out of bed and they need the tools and resources to do their job well.
1. Fostering a frictionless environment
Providing developers with a frictionless environment is one of the most important keys to success in delivering high-quality software. For example, at Capital One, we’ve invested years into building developer tools and platforms that automate an incredible array of tasks, such as container refreshes, cloud infrastructure provisioning, testing, deployment and monitoring. We have embarked on this journey to build enterprise platforms that power our numerous business-critical consumer experiences. The tools and enterprise platforms become the building blocks that increase speed to market, improve developer productivity and reduce operational risk. Particularly for highly regulated industries, this automation and tooling is necessary to create a frictionless environment that, in turn, supports the business.
In addition to tooling, improving developer happiness hinges upon using feedback from surveys about platform usability and effectiveness of developer tools. We rely on instrumentation for real-time analytics of key metrics, using these feedback loops to continuously improve the developer experience.
Building and reinforcing a frictionless environment unlocks opportunities for developers to spend more time doing what they love: oftentimes, this means using their creative brainpower to deliver value for the customer, which can be incredibly motivating. Think of the joy of being an artist who gets to live in an art supply store with unlimited access to the wares; the minute you think of something to paint, you can go and paint it right away.
2. Innovating experiences that matter
Feeling good about your work often boils down to knowing that your work matters to customers and the business. People also do their best work when it’s clear how the work they’re doing ties back to the organization’s core objectives. Seeing how software impacts real customer lives — such as through customer-facing digital banking experiences — is a catalyst for platform teams; it drives passion and passion drives excitement and excitement drives technology solutions. Developers also want to know how their software affects the world outside of their company walls. A common tactic for getting that kind of on-the-ground intelligence often takes the form of usability research. However, I think there’s more to it than that. Companies need to adopt a mindset of external thinking: How would someone who doesn’t work here use this?
Having led organizations of talented engineers focused on both retail banking and enterprise products, I can attest that maintaining the clear alignment between objectives and the team’s work, as well as being hyper-focused on customers, can be a challenge. It takes years to build a culture that’s disciplined about sticking to core objectives. The good news is, while we work to create that culture, we can also hire for that affinity.
One thing I’ve often shared in conversations with prospective candidates is the benefit of focusing on two sides of the same coin: creating exceptional developer experiences that best-enable employees to build delightful customer experiences. Making the developer experience great creates a virtuous cycle through which companies can recruit and retain top talent who, in turn, are invested in innovating breakthrough experiences. It’s a win-win.
3. Building diverse teams
The last, but possibly the most important differentiator, is an emphasis on diversity, both from the perspective of teams but also, the perspective of learning. Oftentimes, diversity is thought of with respect to recruitment (e.g., are we sourcing a diverse set of candidates, and ensuring that we give all candidates a fair opportunity?). If the diversity lens stops once new employees join the organization, teams will miss the major benefit of having diverse perspectives and thinking in product development. To fully realize the benefits of diverse thinking, organizations should focus on interpersonal relationships within teams, and ensure that employees can continue to learn and grow. Investing in all employees so they feel psychologically safe to voice their opinions and take risks without blame or judgment, is the foundation upon which teams innovate best for their customers.
At Capital One, we invest in our developers’ skill sets so we can best meet our customers’ needs. For example, we have a rich curriculum in our internal Tech College that empowers continuous learning and we’re also supportive of internal rotations so developers can gain new experiences and skills. To support diverse career paths, we also created a distinguished engineering job family for hands-on developers who can progress in their careers as technology executives.
The best technology organizations are able to strike the right balance among an obsession with the developer experience, empowering engineers to focus on work that matters to themselves and customers, while maintaining a full lifecycle commitment to diversity. Do those three things well, and you’ll be on your way to leading a world-class technology team.
Srini Uppalapati is Managing Vice President for Enterprise Consumer Product Technology at Capital One.
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