In an article last week about motivating programmers, Nick Halstead claimed:
“One of the things that they never teach non-programmer managers is how to motivate programmers. You may think the programmers are motivated by the same things as the rest of your staff, you are WRONG. Programmers tend to be counted within the higher IQ brackets and are therefore harder typically to second guess.”
He then goes on to say programmers are typically motivated by equipment upgrades and the need to solve problems, whereas micromanaging and meetings hurt productivity. While I can agree that programmers generally love top notch equipment, hate bad managers, and loathe unproductive meetings, I think it’s dangerous to believe that programmers are smarter or easier to motivate than anybody else.
Programmers are Average
When it comes to the average programmer’s intelligence, I would have to agree with Tim Bryce when he said:
“Regardless of the image they wish to project, the average programmer does not have a higher IQ than any other worker with a college degree”
If you speak with a knowledge worker that’s at the top of their game, like an accountant or a writer, you’ll probably be amazed at how skilled they are at their craft. A writer may not be as analytical and mathematical when compared to a programmer, but that doesn’t mean their IQ or intelligence is any lower. To believe so would put you at a disadvantage since you might not be open to all of the knowledge they are willing to share. The truth is that some programmers are brilliant, some are alright, and some are terrible. The danger in believing that all programmers are all highly intelligent is that you’ll have new or less talented programmers finding it hard to say “I don’t understand.” The real managerial challenge is to deflate egos enough to make it alright to ask for help.
Motivation is Complex
Motivation is a complex subject and motivating a programmer is hard work. I would agree that the motivational factors that work on a lawyer might not work on a programmer, but different programmers are motivated by different methods. It’s true that some programmers love to solve tough problems all day, but some could care less about complexity and are more interested in making beautiful software or making people’s lives easier. By understanding that different factors motivate different people, you’ll be able to better attract and retain different types of programmers. The key is to learn what motivates people, and then be open and honest about how to tie that motivational factor into their jobs.
Since programmers, motivation, and management are all complex topics, the only way to get better is to learn and so here two solid resources that I’ve come across to get you started.
Harvard Business Review - The Harvard Business Review is expensive at $99/year, but it’s a top notch magazine and full of quality articles. One management article in particular, Leading Clever People is all about understanding and managing “clever people”.