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What motivates your engineers?

By Chris AbramsMarch 15th, 2023

Engineering managers should seek to understand what motivates their engineers in order to keep them engaged and productive. In reality however this is not always the case. You could work at a company of any size and still find that your manager does not know what motivates you. Understanding what motivates your engineers is the first step to keeping them engaged and productive. It's also important to note that engineers may not always communicate their needs directly to their manager, making it even more challenging for managers to understand what motivates them.

Between 2009 and 2019, I did not have a single manager ask me what my career goals or motivations were. I did communicate my interests, but I cannot recall a single one on one where my manager brought up my career. The first manager who did ask me, I followed them to another job. Often times people are loyal to people and not companies.

As an engineering manager, your role is to lead your team in developing and delivering high-quality products. The most common motivators for engineers are:

  • Challenging work
  • Opportunities for growth and development
  • Recognition and rewards (e.g. bonuses, promotions, paid time off, etc.)

  • A sense of purpose and autonomy
  • Positive work environment

Engineers often thrive when they have the chance to apply their skills to complex problems, learn new technologies or methodologies, receive praise for their accomplishments, feel that their work is making a difference, have some control over their work schedule or methods, and enjoy working with supportive colleagues. By tapping into these motivators and tailoring projects and incentives accordingly, engineering managers can help create a motivated and high-performing team. Ok cool, so what does that look like?

Set clear goals

Ensure that everyone on the team understands what they are working towards. Write down specific goals and break them down into smaller tasks that can be achieved within a reasonable time frame. Make sure to celebrate when goals are met and recognize the team members who contributed to the success. This will help to keep everyone motivated and focused on the end goal.

If you can help each engineer understand how their work fits into the company's goals, you will have a much more motivated team. Make sure each engineer has a notepad of their accomplishments for promotion time.

Provide regular feedback

Feedback is essential for growth and learning. Schedule regular one-on-ones (weekly if possible) with each of your direct reports to discuss their progress, provide feedback on their work, and help them set goals for the future. One-on-ones are also a great opportunity to discuss what motivates your engineers and how you can help them achieve their goals. One-on-ones can be a gold mine for managers. I have probably abstracted more useful information from engineers out of one-on-ones than any other source. I have also learned a lot about what motivates engineers and how to keep them engaged.

Celebrate successes

This is so important it needs to be it's own section. It's important to recognize your team's accomplishments. Celebrate successes, no matter how small they may seem. In a remote environment, this may be one of the few ways to bring the team together. It's also important for helping the rest of the company understand the value of the team's work.

Encourage innovation

Innovation drives progress. Encourage your team to think outside of the box and come up with new ideas that can benefit the company. You will be surprised at what your team can come up with. I have seen engineers come up with some pretty amazing ideas beyond what I could have imagined. Giving engineers room to utilize their creativity and problem-solving skills will help them feel more engaged and motivated.

One of the greatest parts of being a manager is watching your team innovate better solutions than you could have hoped for.

Foster a positive work environment

A positive work environment is crucial for productivity and employee satisfaction. Encourage open communication, collaboration, and respect amongst team members. Make sure to address any issues that arise as soon as possible to prevent them from becoming bigger problems. If you have a remote team, make sure to schedule regular virtual team-building activities to help everyone feel connected and engaged. Even if you have a small team, it's important to call out individual accomplishments and celebrate them. A simple slack message or email can go a long way.

Invest in professional development

Provide opportunities for your team to attend conferences, workshops, or take courses that will help them improve their skills and advance in their careers. Practically speaking the cost of sending an engineer to a conference is a drop in the bucket compared to the value they will get out of it (we're talking about retention here). If you can't afford to send them to a conference, you can still help them learn by providing them with a budget for books or online courses. If you have a remote team, you can also encourage them to attend meetups in their area. This will help them stay connected with the local tech community and learn from other engineers.

Lead by example

As a leader, it's important to set a good example for your team. Be transparent, accountable, and honest in all of your actions. If you want your team to be innovative, you should be innovative yourself. If you want your team to be collaborative, you should be collaborative. If you want your team to be respectful, you should be respectful. "Do as I do."


By following these tips, you can create a productive and motivated engineering team that delivers high-quality products while also growing professionally and personally. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your network. Also check out my newsletter below where I offer great posts like this each week.