Well-Rounded Developers

I had the opportunity this week to talk with some terrific Computer Science students nearing graduation and who were beginning to look for employment. It provided me the chance to put into words the amazing culture and environment that exists at my workplace. The software development team at Extend Health is second to none in both talent and passion for creating clean, modular code that is maintainable because of its extensibility. Everyone on the team contributes and has a trusted voice. It truly is an environment I’ve never seen before and am certainly proud to be apart of.

One of the main things that hit me while talking to these graduating students was how well-rounded our developers have come. No, I’m not talking about the amount of soda and treats we consume. I’m referring to the varying skills each one of us have developed. From front-end to back-end or web sites to desktop apps, every single member of the team is capable of jumping into any of our codebases and tackling new features or bugs with a excellent degree of competentcy. I find this fascinating because it is not the norm at many medium to large size companies. It is typical for a developer to be hired to a position or team where he or she works on a single project and codebase for a few years until they get bored enough to change positions within the company or go somewhere else completely. This has not been the case for all of the developers at Extend Health.

We are currently divided into four teams of about four or five devs each. While each team may have past experience with a certain project or codebase, they are not automatically the chosen team to work on it again the next time. Because of this, there is shared knowledge across teams and team members, instead of all the knowledge residing in only one person’s head. This avoids the “what if someone gets hit by a bus” problem my coworker Ryan just blogged about. The other side effect is that our developers have all become well-rounded in varying languages and platforms, solving both front-end and back-end problems. Contrast this with how I used to classify my dev skill set four or five years ago before working at Extend Health. I used to consider myself a back-end systems developer, feeling it was important to have specialization in order to differentiate myself and provide a chance to develop focused and in-depth experience. I also fooled myself into thinking that I preferred this designation because web development was trivial and only the hardest and most worthwhile problems were in the back-end systems. Instead, I merely lacked some meaningful experience with front-end web development, which is harder to come by in the typical work enivronment I described above. However in my current employment, I’ve become a much more well-rounded software developer.

I’m not entirely positive if our environment and team dynamic were intentionally setup to ensure we were all well-rounded developers (though every other good aspect of our dev culture seems to have been carefully pieced together by Corey). Regardless, I am appreciatevly taking note of the advantageous results of such a configuration. This is one very important aspect of true job satisfaction and also in avoiding high turnover and attrition in workforce.