Developer Exodus: why nobody wants to do maintenance
Finally, that project has gone live. There are still a lot of loose ends to tie, but the stressy part is over. Phew! Now it’s time to smooth out the reported bugs, get some feedback and dream about phase 2.
That’s how managers and stakeholders see it. For them, the pesky delivery phase is finally done. They are ready to reap the fruits now.
For developers, finally shipping the thing is the start of the maintenance phase, also known as Developer Exodus. It seems nobody wants to stay on to keep the damn thing floating now that it’s finally done!
Why is that? Why does nobody want to do maintenance?
It’s the software factory, stupid!
The software factory is a top-down machine where Business people shovel vague requirements in and software comes out. Developers just translate JIRA to Java without any agency. If your organization is a requirements-driven push system that ignores team autonomy, those teams will stop caring.
If the message is “shut up and code”, people will do just that. When developers don’t have an emotional bond with what they are building, they’ll only care about how they are building it.
a lot of your developers only stay on your project because it happens to contain some React and that’s great for their CV. If you give them nothing else, they’ll leave as soon as the cool stuff dries up.
So how to fix this?
A developer is a part of your product team. Treat them like that. Get their input and feedback all the time. Value it like you would value every other stakeholder’s input. Make them come up with interesting features. Let them take ownership. Make them contribute and care about the product. Empower them.
If your developers leave when maintenance starts, it’s not because they are spoiled brats looking for the next shiny thing. It’s because you’ve built an environment where they can only care about fancy code. And now even that is gone.
Developer Exodus is a sign of a bad organisation. It’s a wounded animal bleeding out. Don’t blame the individuals. Heal the system.