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Turnover is coming. Here’s what technologists say is key in retaining them right now

Office kegs and free lunches won't cut it. As offices begin reopening and the economy and job market improve over the next few months, what can employers keep in mind if they want to keep their best people?

Tech workers on the job. (Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels)
Technologists face a lot of stereotypes about their jobs, but one of them, year after year, rings true: Turnover in the industry is still extremely high.

Per LinkedIn data, about 13.2% of people in the industry left and started a new job within the previous year — the highest of all sectors analyzed. And the positions to report the highest turnover were user experience and design (23.3%), data analyst (21.7%) and embedded software engineer (21.7%).

While the pandemic may have curbed some of that typically remarkable turnover in 2020 and 2021, human resource specialists expect that when the pandemic comes to a more definitive end, there could be a turnover “tsunami”: Currently, quit rates are at their lowest in nine years as workers are likely riding the stability they have in an uncertain job market, SHRM found.

So as offices begin reopening and the economy and job market shore up over the next few months, what can employers keep in mind if they want to retain their people?

At’s all-markets stakeholder meeting last month, a handful of technologists — including many from our RealLIST Engineers lists — from around the mid-Atlantic discussed what is or isn’t keeping them in their jobs right now.

Emmanuel Apau. (Courtesy photo)

Right away, a handful of respondents said that the specific projects they work on and company culture are large deciding factors.

“Interesting projects is key. If you don’t have interesting tech or interesting problems to solve, to keep your engineers engaged, it doesn’t really matter how much free food or free coffee you get. If someone’s bored, they’re bored,” said Emmanuel Apau, CTO at in the DMV area. “So really making sure there’s a space for engineers to feel comfortable telling their managers ‘I’m bored,’ I think that’s super important in keeping people engaged.”

Eva Reid, senior analyst and trainer in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer in D.C., said she agreed — because working in government doesn’t provide a lot of the startup perks that other tech jobs do. She’s been in her job for 13 years and added that there’s a lot to be said about stability and benefits, but that’s not going to keep her.

“I could go work anywhere in government. But it’s the interest level in the projects and who do I get to work with,” she said. “In government, you are doing things to support the citizens. You are always working on something different depending on what the needs are.”

Eva Reid. (Courtesy photo)

When soon-to-be University of Maryland grad Gesna Aggarwal asked attendees what, in retrospect, have the technologists cared most about in their careers, Vijaya Rao, founder and CEO at Delaware startup Techvio, said that when she boils it down, the shiny, free things that might get you in the door won’t keep you.

Now, running her own company, she said it’s been important to find people who are happy to take ownership over their work, especially when a company is in its early stages.

Dan Singer, who just got hired at software company Crossbeam and will soon be making the cross-country trek from San Diego to a new home in Philly, said the strength of the company’s brand played a large part in his decision to take the job.

“One of the biggest parts of their brand is investing in the city, and I liked that, it appealed to me. And the thing is, they are really collaborative and friendly, and that was really important to me,” Singer said. “Staying true to the brand over the years will become important in keeping someone.”

Dan Singer. (Courtesy photo)

And for some, how long they’ll stay is related to how much work the company does investing in and promoting its own people. Jason Anton, a full-stack developer at Bellese Technologies in Baltimore, said that he’s not just chasing the next technology or next challenge when he changes jobs. It’s often the only way technologist can upgrade their pay scale.

“It’s hard to progress your income,” Anton said. “You have to leave and go somewhere else to get that pay raise. Not a lot of companies are promoting from within. They’re giving a 4% annual raise. But if you want a 20% bump in pay, you need to jump from one company to the next.”

Part of this is the taboo around sharing incomes, Anton said, and it gets into income disparity. Getting rid of that taboo could go a long way in retaining good people, he said.

“If we’re all aware of what each of us make, we’ll learn how our employer is treating us,” he said. “If I’m doing the same job as a Black woman, and we’re the same level of seniority and experience, and I’m making more, I would like to know that because now I know how the company treats people and I may want to go somewhere else.”

Companies: Crossbeam
People: Jason Anton / Gesna Aggarwal / Eva Reid / Emmanuel Apau / Dan Singer / Vijaya Rao

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