Things an engineer wants in an engineering job

A long while back, during a particularly difficult round of interviewing people for a software engineering position, the HR manager asked

What are the top 5 things engineers want in an engineering job? Equipment? Products that ship? ???????????

I gave my top five, in no particular order

Development projects:

Work on challenging projects that are successful in both development and in the marketplace, using great technologies and innovation to create such products. Well run, staffed, planned projects make the engineer’s life easier – and allowing the flexibility for the engineer to add more “value” to the project team beyond coding is wonderful – and give high job satisfaction.

Professional Development/Support:

Conference attendance (especially), professional magazines/journals, introductions. Support of continuing education (in any area). Support of management in architectural decisions the engineer may make, as long as they’re well founded. Regular, on-schedule performance reviews, goal setting and the like that reflect and support growth of the engineer professionally and personally.

Work Environment:

Great hardware that doesn’t limit or slow the development process. When better/best is needed, it is obtained without issue. Quiet work area, large enough to support multiple bits of hardware. Comfortable chair.

Salary/Benefits:

Competitive salary. Full benefits package (medical, dental, vision, retirement, etc.). PTO, holidays. Performance bonuses. Recognition of jobs well done.

Flexibility:

Work at home, flexible working hours, understanding/support of the former items.

I decided to expand upon those items a good deal more, because in comparing companies a job-hunter can generally only look at tangible benefits – pay, benefits, commute time, title – and make a side by side comparison. Often, a small company cannot compete on tangible benefits alone. What counts are the intangible benefits – things only gleaned from the workplace’s culture, flow and philosophy.

I think it is important for a small company to position what are traditionally the intangible benefits as tangible benefits when selling itself to the job seeker. By doing so, differentiating SmallCo from BigCo is easier – while there aren’t stock options there may be a great work-at-home policy.

The points below are specific to the company I work for but I think are safe to expand to most any small company, especially a software company. I’ll try to pull out some of them for further posts in the near future.

Now, some commentary on the above related to what we *offer* a potential or current employee. This has been going through my head a lot, especially since I’m not seeing people who are interested in our position because of *us* – I’ve even been told they’re interested because it is such an easy commute. We need to differentiate from other companies by more than just “we do cool Mac work” and “nice location” – what really differentiates THIS position more than all the others?

Trying to answer that has been hard, as we cannot describe the wonderful but *intangible* benefits that we as The Company employees have:

- Great camaraderie
- Varied and interesting personalities, experiences
- Respect in our market and of our customers
- Great connections with people in the Mac development industry (Apple and elsewhere)
- Honest goals with honest people behind them
- And so many other intangibles, which may only be seen by one person but are certainly important.

The intangible benefits are great, but they don’t make it through the comparisons of job postings and job offers, and they may not be realized until someone beings working and finds them out for themselves.

So how do we increase our exposure of *tangible* benefits, so that people are really interested in the position we offer and would choose to learn more about us rather than someone else? I think we need to offer more specific tangible benefits:

Re: professional development/support

- I’d be in favor of offering each engineer a stipend for professional development “stuff” – books, magazines, memberships, etc. It doesn’t have to be much, but it does show a defined commitment to supporting the engineer’s craft.
- I’d like to see The Company have a defined policy on continuing education. Some thoughts: contribution to fees or tuitions, flexibility in working hours, use of knowledge gained in the The Company growth path. We may already have something like this in practice, but I think it needs to be defined and listed as a tangible benefit.

Re: work environment

- Can I get an Aeron chair too? :)
- Each incoming employee is given a maximum of $X to configure the hardware system of their choice, no questions asked. This is the hardware stipend, and it can be created from the input of all the engineers and IT.
If the engineer wants a laptop, or a desktop, or three monitors – if you can do it within the stipend nobody cares. If you buy a laptop and desktop for your work, nobody cares. If you buy a desktop and three monitors, but then start complaining that you need a laptop (sans legitimate reason) too bad. I would see this as a definite plus for our job offering, as control and flexibility of one’s computer, especially for an engineer, is paramount.
- A lot has been written about work environments, and the evidence seems to point to space and privacy being important in the engineer’s success. We need to keep this in mind as we expand our office spaces.

Re: salary/benefits

- Are we competitive in the salary ranges?
- Is salary negotiable, based on experience and value?
- Is PTO negotiable? This one gets me, not only because I never have enough PTO but because I think someone moving jobs, even after years of experience, suffers greatly. For instance, when I started at The Company I lost 6 days of PTO (going from 18 to 12/year). PTO is a hugely tangible benefit to an employee, and taking a hit of any proportion on the PTO front is a quality of life hit. PTO is a directly-comparable value, alongside salary, that could differentiate between a candidate interviewing with us or someone else. It is also a tangible benefit that we can control more so than many others. My suggestion: offer more base PTO in our benefits package, and grow it accordingly.
- Continue to revise our other benefits and maybe offer something “unique” within the package – maybe someone in CA could get auto insurance for less because the company gets a group rate, etc. Something that differentiates our benefits from that of everyone else.
- Reward/support employees who use mass transit, hybrid cars, walk to work, etc. The “commuter benefit.” Make it policy, make it known. Pay for bus/train fare in support of that. Something positive to keep cars off the road.

Re: flexibility

- Working from home, or working remotely seems to have become the buzz-killer around the office. I think it is seriously impacting our abilities to attract top-notch candidates, especially given the costs associated with living within commuting distance of the office. We need to seriously weigh the benefits of requiring the employee to be a 9-5 office dweller.
- Especially with engineers, who are task based and generally work independently, consideration needs to be given to flexibility in working hours. Yes, there are “core” hours where everything goes better if everyone is working – we’re all able to do that now – but outside those “core” hours may not work well with the engineer’s talent, which may be most expressive in the middle of the night. This is a reality for some (fortunately, not me) and it may become a reality for The Company. We lost a solid engineering candidate because her idea of schedule did not align with ours, and that is unfortunate. Now, I’m not saying its a free for all, because some structure needs to be there in order to support the rest of the team (meetings, emails, working together, etc.) but flexibility is a great benefit.
- Working at home: I’d like to see The Company support a work at home program that benefits all employees. Making this a tangible benefit has a few good effects: its good for the environment, its good for the health of the employee, The Company is more socially/environmentally aware and responsive and it may alleviate some of the stresses to the office space we have now. For a potential employee, or a current one, or someone doing business with us, it is a sign of a “good thing” supported by the company.
- Remote engineers: Please consider it. There are a lot of talented people who *will not* or *can not* move to CA that we cannot attract, and I wonder if that is costing us. Yes, it is hard at times, especially since we’re sprinkled throughout the country, but the benefits to the employee and The Company are huge, and I think they outweigh the difficulties in scheduling meetings, having impromptu conversations, etc. that would happen if everyone sat together.

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