There are three reasons people do things for you:

  1. It helps them.
  2. It helps you.
  3. It’s their job.

The higher up that list you can move the motivation, the better the results. I think this is pretty obvious once you see it. We’re all like that. We’re generally much more motivated by our own hobbies than helping out friends and more motivated helping out friends than digging ditches just because we’re paid for it.

The question is how to make use of this knowledge. When it comes to hiring people, especially in creative arts like software programming, you’ll always get your best work from someone who loves what they do. I know some of you are saying “Duh! I already know that.” Hey, I said it was obvious.

0020-05-small.jpgWhen I’m interviewing someone for a software position, I always ask why kind of computer set up they have at home. Then I ask what their personal projects are. If they do programming for fun, then they’ll find their job up there under reason #1 and will do their best work. I’m like this. I’ve never had to work for anyone… I just play the way they ask me to. It’s a sweet deal if you can get it.

Once they’re hired, the real challenge is to keep the job interesting and new and, most of all, fun. You want them to look forward to coming in to the office every day. To do this, you have to have a pleasant environment, good equipment, opportunities to learn new things, and challenging tasks. If you let a developer get bogged down in constant maintenence with no chance to create something new (remember, software design is an art, not a science) then eventually they’ll fall down to reason #3 and either be much less productive or leave for greener pastures, and that is costly.

Replacing a top-notch software developer is probably the most costly activity a small company will undertake. It’s not the HR costs of advertising the position, or the costs of an interviewer’s time, or the relocation costs to bring them from out of town. No, by far the biggest cost is the knowledge that the departing person takes with them. There is no way to transfer that so once gone, it has to be learned anew by someone else.

Treat your artists like gold; they’re worth their weight in it.