Kevin Eaton, PhD

Technology Leader, Non-Profit Founder, PhD, Chaplain, Geek

Software Engineers and Motivation, Part 2

3 minutes
March 1, 2016

In my last post, I provided some background on to why I was interested in exploring motivation with regard to software engineers. In this post, I will explain my findings and some implications of the research.

After I posted to research instrument online and briefly advertised it, 1559 respondents began the survey and 1054 completed the survey (n = 1054). That is a completion rate of 67.6%, which is pretty good considering the number of questions; people are busy! Each question was scored on a 6-point Likert scale. I took all of the completed responses and developed a mean score for the group as a whole. Regardless of educational attainment, software engineers were heavily motivated primarily by intrinsic motivators:

Personal Development — 5.572

Task — 5.147

Interpersonal Interactions — 5.096

General Working Conditions — 4.883

Empowerment — 4.675

Compensation — 4.334

Interestingly, empowerment was fairly low on the rankings, which was a curious result when I first encountered it. However, when I examined the correlation between level of educational attainment and motivational factor, Empowerment skyrocketed as the most strongly correlated factor, with Personal Development having a very strong inverse correlation:

Empowerment: .579 (p < .01)

Personal Development: -.560 (p < .01)

General Working Conditions: -.514 (p < .01)

Compensation: -.403 (p < .01)

Interpersonal Interactions: .187 (p < .01)

Task: -.049 (Not Significant)

Key Take Aways

Personal Development was the most influential motivational dimension but quickly diminished in importance as educational attainment increased

Compensation was the least influential motivational dimension

Note: Aside from the extrinsic nature of compensation, software engineer salaries are typically higher than many other professions so they may not be considered as differentiating

The strongest correlations were intrinsic motivations

The weakest significant correlation was interpersonal interactions (r = .187, p < .01)

As software engineers increase in educational attainment, they shift towards more intrinsic motivators and focus on primary motivations. Managers should consider changing motivational techniques as different educational levels are attained and understand that many may shift from a focus on self-development to empowerment.

What does that mean in practice? Benefits packages could focus on self-development (conference attendance, paid training, tuition reimbursement) for engineers with lower current academic achievement. As academic attainment increases, compensation packages could shift towards leadership, publishing opportunities, paid open-source contributions, or similar opportunities for empowerment. It must be stated that this was a sample of North American software engineers in a paid organization context, so generalization may not be appropriate to other cultures. Also, only academic achievement was used as the demographic delineation; other demographic traits such as age and seniority should be used for future research.

Interested in the research or data? Let me know and I will try to get it over to you!