Engineering Managers Share Their Top Retention Secrets

Leaders from 4 Colorado tech companies share their secrets to keeping engineering talent happy, healthy and on board.
Written by Robert Schaulis
September 26, 2022Updated: September 26, 2022

“I think we have one of the best internship programs — exciting, inclusive and hands-on. It’s how I got my start 26 years ago.”

At Ball Aerospace, Senior Engineering Manager Shala Burdette recently celebrated her 25-year work anniversary. 

Stories like Burdette’s are, it’s safe to say, no longer the norm in the field of engineering. Turnover in the tech industry has long been a valid preoccupation of managers — where even in-demand roles such as software engineer are associated with outsized turnover rates exceeding 10 percent, according to reports by CNBC, Business Insider and other news sources. Couple that typical high turnover with the uncertainty of the Great Resignation — employees leaving their jobs at well-above pre-pandemic rates — and you have an anxiety-inducing problem for tech company leaders.

At Ball, Burdette and her team have managed to establish a unique culture in this high-turnover environment — one that still manages to celebrate 25-year work anniversaries on a yearly basis.

“It’s inspiring to hear from those who’ve found a home here and have such a passion for our people and programs,” she said. “I’m proud to be one of them.”

Rob Correll, director of engineering at SumUp, a global fintech company devoted to servicing small businesses, recalled a particularly proud year in which the company’s engineering team saw zero turnover. He credits a culture of “emotional security” that invests in making workers feel “stable, supported and respected.”

“It comes from building an emotionally stable workplace where people want to continue working,” Correll said. “Twenty percent of our developers have been here for more than five years. Ultimately, good retention breeds good retention.”

Built In Colorado asked four engineering leaders to share insights into the challenges and rewards of building a resilient company culture and retaining its strongest assets: its people.

 

Three members of the InspiringApps team in an office environment
InspiringApps

 

Stacy Griffin
Director of Operations

 

Boasting a portfolio of more than 200 apps developed, InspiringApps helps brands design and develop mobile, web and customer apps and software solutions. 

 

InspiringApps’ value proposition: Engineers come to InspiringApps for the diversity of clients, collaborative team atmosphere and attractive benefits package.

InspiringApps doesn’t specialize in a specific client-size or industry. We love serving startups as well as large corporations. Engineers gain experience building things from the ground up, nimbly and efficiently, for our startup clients. They also work in huge code bases building products that scale to handle thousands of daily users.

At InspiringApps, we work 100 percent remotely, but that doesn’t mean we work alone. Our transition into a remote workforce spanning time zones has been smooth. It has allowed us to attract top engineers no matter where they live. We have fine-tuned our tooling and process to provide straightforward means for collaboration. 

We make our employees feel valued by the compensation packages we provide. We have annual reviews, but employees don’t have to wait for them to come around. If engineers continue to demonstrate good work, we ensure they are rewarded. And compensation is only a small piece of the puzzle. InspiringApps benefits and perks stand up against any size company.

Our transition into a remote workforce has allowed us to attract top engineers no matter where they live.”

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction?

InspiringApps is a small company, so we have many natural touch points throughout a normal week—daily syncs, weekly remote lunches and more. We also have implemented monthly coffee chats. Engineers have time to talk about non-work-related topics and to get to know each other.

InspiringApps takes a yearly Great Places to Work survey that enables engineers to voice their opinions anonymously. We use the data we collect to make improvements throughout the year. Additionally, team meeting opportunities allow for open discussion and team feedback around new ideas or initiatives.

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at InspiringApps? 

Who we work with makes all the difference, so our teams care deeply about who we hire. We take who we hire very seriously and are even more serious about retaining those people once they are at InspiringApps. Most of our engineers have been at the company for more than five years.

We know there is always room for improvement, and we get excited when we have the opportunity to try something new. Engineers enjoy the variety of work we offer at InspiringApps and our dedication to improving.

 

 

Kevin Strother
Team Lead, Could Engineering

 

Tipico is a global provider of sports betting and casino gaming products. The company recently expanded to the U.S., offering millions of Americans access to its mobile sports betting platform. 

 

Tipico’s value proposition: Building out the technological hub here in Denver has traits reminiscent of a greenfield project — given the relative “newness” of Tipico U.S. Our DevOps engineers have had the freedom to shape and design systems and processes — under the guidance of our cloud architect — to support our app, which resides in a heavily regulated industry. 

Backed by the maturity of Tipico EU, a veteran in EU sports betting, I find Tipico U.S. has a tendency to feel like a well-funded startup. We have the freedom to innovate and fail fast, but we also have more than a decade and a half of experience from which to benefit. Because of our constant growth as a company, there is potential for constant career growth for each employee. As new members are added to each team, new leaders will need to be promoted.

Because of our constant growth as a company, there is potential for constant career growth for each employee.”

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction? 

I think it is incredibly important to have constant interaction and open communication with all members of my team. By having a baseline for someone’s daily behavior or attitude, it becomes easy to pick up on someone having a bad day — or that bad day turning into a bad week. Constant open communication also allows for a more receptive setting where directly asking “hey, is everything OK?” is more acceptable. 

Our hybrid office approach coupled with our camera-on culture allows me to pay attention to the most telling communication device we have — body language. Constant face-to-face communication for the DevOps team is fostered by daily syncs and frequent group-swarm projects. I also make attempts to have regular one-on-one time with each team member as schedules allow.

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at Tipico? 

In my eyes, employee retention is much more than “perks,” especially in a post-pandemic environment. People want to be seen and to feel valued. Don’t get me wrong: we understand the value of competitive salaries, annual reviews and bonuses. But I have found a key component in the retention of talent is to let the employee actually use their talents. 

A team member who has a sense of ownership for their work and feels like a contributing member of the group will consistently look for additional challenges to tackle and personal growth milestones to achieve.

 

 

Shala Burdette
Senior Engineering Manager

 

Ball Aerospace develops space solutions for private, national defense and public applications. The company’s products offer more accurate weather forecasts, provide new insights and observations about our planet and deliver actionable data and intelligence. 

 

Ball Aerospace’s value proposition: Our tagline “Go Beyond” is fitting for Ball Aerospace and its people. I have never succeeded, nor have I failed, as an individual. Team inclusion and support are at the heart of what makes Ball a great place to work. 

Ball aligns team members with resources to get through some of life’s toughest challenges. Our annual Turkey Trot 5K event raises money for employees suffering personal hardship. Ball matches team member donations and time spent volunteering at local nonprofit organizations too. We also have a vacation donation program so team members can donate time to others. It’s such a values-oriented and people-oriented community. 

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction?

I try to be a walk-around manager to interact with my team and ask them how they are doing. It’s important to get to know your team at a level they’re comfortable with. I have an open-door policy and encourage my team to come to me with anything. I can't promise that I can fix everything, but I will listen and try to find a workable solution or channel the concern upward and advocate for them. 

In my department, we are very fortunate to have a variety of roles and responsibilities. That’s true across the business, and we encourage individuals to take new opportunities to foster ownership in career satisfaction. If an employee is happy with what they’re doing, they’re far more productive and satisfied in their career path. I’m in my current role because someone outside my department reached out saying they thought I’d be good at managing. It’s important to recognize strengths in people and, if needed, give those people a little push to get there.

Transparency is also key. People want to know the good, bad and ugly. Ball makes individuals feel like they’re part of the conversation. There is a greater sense of value and inclusion when leadership is open and honest.

I want individuals to embrace a sense of ownership and pride in what we do.”

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at Ball Aerospace?

Many departments at Ball Aerospace have a long track record of retention. But we also have many new people and a younger generation coming in, so we are continually attune to individuals’ priorities. It is an individualized approach that’s constantly changing. As a manager, I try to focus on being a good role model through attitude, work ethic and by not shying away from getting my hands dirty. 

Work-life balance is a major differentiator, and I think flexibility for hybrid work is a key benefit that helps productivity and job satisfaction. Phased retirement has also been a success in our group. It’s allowed us to tap into the tremendous wealth of technical expertise to continue the flow of knowledge transfer. 

Compensation is always a key for retention, but how people feel valued is sometimes overlooked. Promotions, spot bonuses and team member recognitions are all levers a manager should take advantage of. I want individuals to embrace a sense of ownership and pride in what we do. The amazing teamwork is what makes working here fun. There may be challenges at times. But if everyone has the same goal, we come together to succeed.

 

 

Rob Correll
Director of Engineering

 

A global fintech company dedicated to servicing the small business community, SumUp is the financial partner for more than 4 million small merchants in more than 35 markets worldwide.

 

SumUp’s value proposition: First and foremost, we offer emotional security. I want to work in a place where I feel stable, supported and respected. And that's what we cultivate for our developers. We prioritize — and achieve — a good work-life balance. But we also carve out time to invest in the right architectural approach and execute meaningful plans to address technical debt.

Historically, we’ve had a very low turnover rate — including one year where we didn't lose anyone for any reason.”

 

As a manager, how do you keep a pulse on your team members’ job satisfaction? 

With intention and great expense. Our managers have biweekly, hour-long one-on-one meetings. Skip-level managers have monthly meetings. We have bi-annual 360 degree performance reviews and regular developer forums. 

We want to ensure the barrier for communication between peers and management is as low as possible. At one point, it was a more normal lightweight process. But through feedback from the team we found that an hour one-on-one led to a much more productive discussion than a 30-minute meeting. We found that with a short interaction with managers you'll talk about the most important details ⁠— but with an hour, you have space and time to discuss broader topics. In these one-on-ones, we never speak about the problem of the day. Those problems will be solved through our everyday work process. Instead we use the time to talk through our medium- to long-term strategy, educational resources, personal development and cross-functional team relationships.

 

What have you learned about employee retention in your time as a manager at SumUp?

Historically, we’ve had a very low turnover rate — including one year where we didn't lose anyone for any reason! We’ve built an emotionally stable workplace where people want to continue working. Twenty percent of our developers have been here for more than five years. Ultimately, good retention breeds good retention.

 

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