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Why developers leave — poor-performing peers edition

I just read something that a friend posted about a low-performing member of a team that reminded me of being on a team where this happened. I got frustrated, I started taking interview requests from LinkedIn, and I left (with a decent pay bump!). I was not the most talented member of that team.

I’ve only worked as a developer in the tech space for around 6 years, but I have run into having poor-performing peers a couple of times. There may be things that can drive employees to leave a company faster than this, so I can’t claim this is the worst, but I do hate it.

Why do developers hate working with poor-performers?

It’s unfair.

Being on a team with the same title as a low-performer, and knowing how similar our compensation is, is frustrating. If contributions to the team are so disparate, but compensation does not reflect the contribution level, that person will leave in frustration.

It’s like letting a toddler paint on a work of art.

Software is art. Some may disagree, but good developers have a strong pride in their work. When you have a low-performer on your team, you have to be ok with letting a novice work on your masterpiece. That may sound a bit flowery, but it is frustrating having masterminded the architecture of your app, only to have someone introduce less-ideal ways of doing so.

This is not elitist. I am all for having developers not know everything, mess up, and learn. This is a case when someone has the same title, and they cannot grasp what your team is trying to do technically.

It slows the team down.

I am not sure a lot needs to be said here. Things take longer than they should. It feels like carrying a wounded man through knee-deep mud in the middle of a battle. (not really. This is just the mental picture I conjure up).

Mismatched Expectations

A lot of problems arise from mismatched expectations. Most of these things aren’t an issue if a lower-performing member has the correct title. All because it sets the correct expectation.

How do you deal with poor-performing members?

That person may need some coaching. Help them level up and expand the way that they think so they are able to contribute on an even level with other members of the team.

I was a poor-performing member of a team once upon a time. I just didn’t fit with my team. Something about the team dynamics didn’t allow me to grow and contribute like I had wanted to. I felt this pressure and despite coaching, the situation wasn’t getting better. I talked with my manager and we found a position for me on another team within the company where I was able to flourish and make more meaningful contributions.

Unfortunately, the problem may be outside the ability of the individual to adapt. Sometimes it's not even that person’s fault, they just aren’t a great fit. Help them find new opportunities. Maybe that means you move them to a new team within the org, but if you don’t have that option, you may have to let them go.

The cost of letting the resentment build-up on a team until people leave is not a way to deal with the problem. Letting a good member of a team leave, is worse than just letting the poor-performer go. You are stuck with a sub-par member, and you have a spot to fill instead of just the spot to fill.

Read other articles in my “Why developers leave” series:

https://bwighthunter.medium.com/why-developers-leave-heroes-edition-b3814d19a516

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