5 ways to improve the mental health of software developers – TechCrunch

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With World Mental Health Day just behind us, I thought about how the tech industry can be a tough place to stay mentally well. Working remotely, especially in unprecedented circumstances, can make a difficult situation worse. I’ve been working remotely in the tech field for over a decade and will share my advice on how fast-paced tech startups can take good care of their software development talents.

Software development at its best is a creative endeavor. Developers need a certain level of convenience to be able to produce quality work. Boring tasks, noisy desks, and too many meetings can impact productivity, even in the best of circumstances.

However, health is something more basic, almost at the lowest level of the hierarchy of needs, which includes mental health. Software developers need their brains in good shape to do the job they do, and sometimes when things aren’t going well we can see it in our colleague’s code before the real problem is even. communicated.

The distributed nature of remote start teams makes this more difficult. When working remotely, the office features that can help you support your team’s well-being are lacking. Not just free fruit and coffee or bean bags; it may also be more difficult to notice when a coworker is having difficulty. When we’re not in the same place, it’s harder to spot who’s coming late, who leaves early, or who just seems a little… flat.


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It is also more difficult to check if someone is okay when there is no conversation on the water cooler. However, if you are unsure of someone and wondering if you should check in with them, my advice is always to reach out. As distant teams, we need to communicate more, and when it comes to mental health, it’s better to say something and find that someone is okay and that you aren’t worrying about anything, rather than having them. let it reach a breaking point alone.

Give yourself autonomy

I have worked remotely – by choice, for a selection of employers, large and small, as well as for my own independent consulting firm – for over a decade. What I value most about working from home is the flexibility, especially when my job is more on the manufacturer’s schedule as a software developer.

I discovered a series of lifelong tips that have helped me do more of my best work, such as a gym workout at 11 a.m. after a morning start at the office, or putting dinner in the oven before going to bed. last meeting of the day. This ability to have a little more “life” beside work has been beneficial for my own well-being, especially in times when I was struggling.

In Daniel Pink’s “Drive” book, he explains how autonomy, mastery and purpose are the main drivers of motivation. Motivation, recognition and trust are the key to successful software development work. Being empowered to contribute to a larger goal using your skills is very rewarding, and for startups where there is usually more freedom in choosing and prioritizing work, it can be very satisfying for developers.

However, 83% of developers report burnout, according to Haystack research, so be sure to set realistic expectations for your software developers. It is more difficult to send them home at a reasonable time when there is no physical office. These expectations must therefore be carefully defined, especially when working hours are flexible and it is easy to let large projects take over.

Education says you care

Developers are lifelong learners; they have to be because the industry is changing so quickly. They are constantly investing in themselves, their knowledge and their skills.

As an employer, you can also invest in them as individuals. Some companies offer generous training budgets or time off. I used to work for a small software company that didn’t provide a budget for studies, but you could set aside one day a month just to learn something, and either help yourself to the textbook shelf, or request a tutorial an hour to someone. else to get you started on a new topic. It didn’t cost the company much, but I felt like they wanted me to be successful.

Freedom to work

Rewarding developers with money is not a motivator, but giving them time and trusting them to use it for something other than direct product engineering work can have a big impact. .

Google uses an approach known to give 20% of a worker’s time to be used for anything it finds interesting. It even produced some useful products, but the main point is that the developers felt involved and trustworthy on the job. Atlassian is also famous for doing something similar, with all employees working 24 hours on the projects they choose, producing surprising innovations and improvements that might never have been delivered otherwise.

Many developers devote a large portion of their time to open source projects. I’ve tried several times to explain this to people from other professions, and it turns out the hacker culture is baffling.

Developers, however, strongly identify with this world, and 91% of developers say open source is in their future. Giving developers permission to contribute to open source can make them feel more valued. These open source communities can be an important part of a developer’s social and support networks, as well as their identity, which is essential to their well-being at large.

The lessons of open source

Our modern workplace has a lot to learn from open source to enable others to participate with us on projects. Open source projects serve as a reasonable model for the operation of a truly remote workflow.

Some of the fundamental building blocks of our software world were built by people who only knew each other through mailing list or IRC channel. Software was created, but, perhaps more importantly, strong connections were made.

Today’s remote software teams, whether remote by choice or circumstance, have much more impressive tools at their disposal. Source control and collaboration tools are now more than a mailing list, and we can all be in constant contact via text chat, audio call, or video. We can even pair programs remotely using screen sharing or tools like VSCode Live Share.

However, all of this connectivity can lead to additional stress and notification fatigue. Remember that software developers are all different; one person’s working style will not be exactly like another’s. Open source projects work in a way that respects everyone’s time and without too much expectation that someone will be present at a specific time – rather, within a scheduled window of time.

For remote teams doing advanced technology work, scheduling as few meetings as possible that leave long thinking moments – and setting expectations for how quickly everyone should respond to Slack messages – can really help provide a work environment. calm.

Work-life balance

When the pandemic prevented us from making our daily commutes, many found themselves with less than ideal work setups. Parking on the couch or at the kitchen table, and perhaps with other family members nearby, was unsurprisingly a difficulty for many of us, with increased levels of burnout widely reported. .

Even if your developers have been working from home for a while, it’s never a bad idea to check if they need a monitor upgrade, a spare power supply, or even a new keyboard. Many employers now offer work-from-home budgets, but a little help makes sure your developers have the tools they need.

Take the time to socialize together at work. Building worthy corporate teams is hopefully a thing of the past, but some straightforward online games can lighten the mood. If your company offers an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), make sure all of your employees are aware of it and how to access it. It doesn’t hurt to remind managers that programs are there for them too, not just for their team members.

When it comes to mental health, a startup can be a tough place to live. They’re fast, with frequent changes and plenty of plates to keep spinning. My best advice is to look out for each other, and it’s not just managers who look after the staff who report to them. We can all do our part by taking care of others and taking care of ourselves.

When we burn out, there are warning signs before it happens. We need to find ways to make our work sustainable in the long run and be something we do alongside our healthy lives. It’s easier said than done, but busy startups need to take the time to remind their employees that they matter.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or has thought about harming or killing yourself, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides free, confidential support. 24/7 for people in distress. , as well as best practices for professionals and resources to help with prevention and crisis situations.

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