Five types of managers that are causing developers to leave your company

Anyone who has ever hired a developer knows that it can be hard to bring in a good fit. Finding someone who fits the hiring budget and meshes with the team and the company’s culture, while still having the appropriate skills and level of experience is not an easy task. Losing a good developer after putting the time and resources into finding the right person for the job can be a big hit to a company. 

The departure of a good developer can be expensive in terms of the time and resources that it takes to find a replacement and bring them up to speed. When developers leave, they don’t just hurt the team and the company’s bottom line. They also take with them their intimate knowledge of active projects and the code, neither of which can be replaced easily. New developers generally cannot jump into their new positions immediately, but must instead take the time to learn their way around the code and the role they must assume within their new team.

While it is natural for employees to seek out the greater challenge of a new position as their skills improve over time, an unusually high turnover rate among developers could be indicative of a management problem. We at White Rabbit Digital have done a little bit of digging into the reasons that developers leave their jobs, and one of the more common reasons seems to be ineffective management. We have grouped these problem managers into five categories: The Drive-by Manager, the Clueless Manager, the Collector, the Cowboy Coder, and the Carrot Dangler.

Drive-by Manager

The Drive-by Manager is simply never there. Always out of the office or busy with client meetings and phone calls, the Drive-by Manager’s focus is rarely on their team. Many employees never get to know the Drive-by Manager and feel that their manager never gets to know them, which causes them to avoid approaching their manager. Important questions might go unanswered, and problems often go unresolved simply because the manager’s attention is elsewhere.

A developer’s biggest motivator is often learning, especially when they are fresh from school and eager to put their skills to work so that they can gain industry experience. For that reason, junior developers are generally particularly hard-hit by this style of management because they are typically looking for feedback and want to be mentored. A Drive-by Manager simply does not have the time to act as a mentor and to help their developers learn from their mistakes, face new challenges, and continue to learn on the job.

While the Drive-by Manager can be a great asset to their company by promoting good client relationships, they accomplish this at the expense of their team. This creates untenable environment for their developers. This leads to the perception that the manager doesn’t care about their employees, and can foster deep discontent.

Clueless Manager

The Clueless Manager has been promoted for their business skills, which means they typically do not know how to speak geek. The Clueless Manager has no idea that there are different types of developers with different skillsets or levels of experience. Indeed, sometimes the Clueless Manager seems to not know what, exactly, developers actually do. Since Clueless Managers don’t speak geek, they are incapable of communicating the needs of their developers to other departments. This further weakens their team’s position and reduces opportunities for collaboration and positive communication.

Not knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their developers creates critical failures for the Clueless Manager’s team. Development is a fast-paced job that is constantly evolving, so when the Clueless Manager assigns tasks that are not a good fit for a developer’s skillset they are setting the developer up for slow progress or even failure. By excluding developers from important meetings, the Clueless Manager robs their employees of the ability to voice their input regarding project scope and deadlines.  The developer cannot win in these situations; whether they speak up or they miss a deadline they are labeled as the problem by the Clueless Manager who simply has no idea what they do.

This type of manager is difficult to work with. Their management style is rife with miscommunications and misunderstandings that can often result in late nights at the office. Inefficient task assignments prevent developers from using the skills they were hired for, and keeps them from mastering new skills. Since there is no chance for growth or mentoring, and since team morale is persistently low, developers will leave at the first chance they have to get away from this manager.

The Collector

The Collector searches out developers with every qualification imaginable. The developer that the Collector demands is well-versed in many programming languages and frameworks, and has years of industry experience. They can also fulfill the role of mentor to newer developers while simultaneously helping to bridge gaps within the department by acting as a liaison to upper management and stakeholders. This type of developer is quite rare, earning them the label of “Unicorn.”

Unfortunately, many positions don’t require a Unicorn. Most openings can be filled satisfactorily by developers with a relevant skillset, the right level of experience, and the right attitude. By fixating on finding their Unicorn, the Collector wastes time and resources in searching for an employee that is overqualified for the job.

Perhaps the Collector does not truly understand the position that they are hiring for, or maybe they hope that the Unicorn will take on more responsibility than their position calls for. Either way, the team must continue to work shorthanded while the hiring process drags on. When the Unicorn is finally hired, they will find themselves in a mundane position for which they are overqualified. It won’t be long before the Unicorn leaves for a job that is a better match for their talents, leaving the Collector back at the beginning of the hiring process while their team continues to suffer.

Cowboy Coder

The Cowboy Coder comes from a development background. They were typically promoted because they love to write code and are very good at what they do. Unfortunately, technical expertise does not translate into good people skills. Cowboy Coders are often slow to realize that they are now in a position where they must manage people and projects instead of losing themselves in a project and shutting out the outside world.

When the Cowboy Coders act as a one-man show, they become especially dangerous to their team. Developers should benefit from the knowledge and technical expertise that their manager brings to the table, but instead they find themselves saddled with simple side projects while their manager takes on the real work. Meanwhile, the Cowboy Coder grows increasingly stressed and unhappy as they do much of the heavy lifting for projects by themselves because they perceive their team as incapable of taking on more challenging tasks.

This management style undermines a developer on many levels. Frequently finding themselves with nothing of importance to do, the developer is bored at work. they may struggle with perceptions of inadequacy since their manager does not trust them with challenging work. Since there is never a chance for a developer to hone their skills or to prove themselves capable of taking on greater responsibility, they are stuck in a situation with little possibility for advancement. Thus, the Cowboy Coder simultaneously destroys team morale while stalling the careers of their team.

Carrot Dangler

At first, the Carrot Dangler comes across as the perfect manager. They are typically either a former developer or someone with a long history of working with developers, so they act as a sympathetic mentor who gets where their employees are coming from. Thus, the Carrot Dangler’s real danger is in the false hope that they foster.

They motivate their employees with promises that they never seem able to keep. These promises are often things that the Carrot Dangler is not in a position deliver, such as inclusion in important meetings, a raise, or even a promotion. Rather than owning up to the truth by explaining why they cannot keep their promises right now, they keep on reassuring the developer that changes are coming.

Especially in the case of intermediate developers who are ready to spread their wings and assume more responsibility, a Carrot Dangler manager can be a challenge. Developers don’t know whether their manager is dishonest or if they are a victim of administration because they refuse to give a straight answer when they are confronted with their broken promises. The only way to win with this manager is to accept that the situation may never improve and move on.

There are many reasons that developers will leave their jobs, but our research shows that ineffective managers like the Drive-by Manager, the Clueless Manager, the Cowboy Coder, and the Carrot Dangler are at the top of the list. Have you ever had a manager that has pushed you to leave your job thanks to their management style? Be sure to comment below to tell us about it.