From both ends of the employment spectrum, software development jobs are in demand. On the company side, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 30.7 percent growth in software development roles between 2016 and 2026. For workers, U.S. News and World Report ranks software developer No. 1 on its “100 Best Jobs,” “Best STEM Jobs,” and “Best Technology Jobs” lists.
With that said, not all development roles are the same. It doesn’t take more than a couple of conversations to see that some software engineering positions amount to startup servitude. Other firms, realizing skilled developers are in short supply, are sensitive to the needs and ambitions of their people.
How to Tell Good Gigs Apart
If you’re a developer looking for a professional home, how can you predict whether an employer is worth working for?
1. Their developers create content.
At some companies, developers are treated like trolls in the dungeon. They’re seen as producers, not thought leaders whose ideas are worth sharing. But consider what developers like Alyse White at Credera, a management and technology consulting firm, have to contribute. Her blog post about Agile and DevOps provide a down-to-earth look at the two development styles. It also packs in business insights about how companies like Chipotle can improve their customer experience.
Don’t expect every blog post a company publishes to be written by a developer, but do request an example or two. Companies that give developers time to be creative and communicate with the public are likely to let them explore other interests. They’re also more likely to value their opinions. Particularly for developers early in their career, the chance to build role-agnostic skills, like writing and research, are vital for long-term success.
2. They prioritize work and life.
Work-life integration is one of those cultural perks every company talks about, but precious few actually provide. Take claims by recruiters that the company gives ample time off with a grain of salt. Especially at startups, few managers are willing to prioritize team members’ mental health when a code deadline looms.
Instead, check recruiting sites. A long-term engineer at Qualcomm raved on Glassdoor about how leaders encourage work-life balance, for example. Scan for benefits that signal balance as well: In his review, the Qualcomm team member noted that workers can come and go as they wish. He also pointed to on-site amenities that team members can use to blow off steam, such as a pool and a gym.
3. They try out new technologies.
One of the best parts of being a developer is getting to explore the latest technologies before everyone else. But because new tools come with a learning curve — and because developers are expensive to employ — many companies are hesitant to let them do so. Great employers realize, though, that technological experimentation is an important part of developers’ development.
Take Yeti, a San Francisco-based development studio. Although most of the company’s work is in corporate apps, it took time after virtual reality hit the scene to create Tiny Eye, a virtual reality game for smartphones based on the I-Spy series. Yeti may not have made money on the project, but it did accomplish its president’s goal to build something that’s casual but engaging.
4. They put engineers in leadership roles.
What’s the surest sign that a company is a dead end for your career? The phrase that Nick Seegmiller, Vivint Smart Home’s director of software engineering, heard when he asked to be considered for a management position: that he’s “too good an engineer to promote into management.” Although not all engineers are great managers — and vice versa — that’s no reason to deny them the chance.
How can you predict from the outside whether a company might try to stunt your growth? Try checking the LinkedIn profiles of its engineering leaders. Seegmiller points out that, even while Vivint Smart Home was still small, he created four team lead roles for the company’s engineers.
If you’re in the market for a software development job, don’t let dollar signs dictate your decision. Your growth, happiness, and career trajectory are on the line. If those things aren’t worth waiting for the right role, then what is?