Developers Unhappy at Berlin Startups

At many of these Berlin meetups that are happening almost every day now, I bump into developers employed at startups. Maybe it is the nature of these events but I have yet to meet someone who is happy with their employer and who is not looking for a new job. Naturally, I ask them what it is that they dislike so much about their job. The answers are surprisingly uniform.

Often, the development team is run by people with no solid background in technology. No technological leadership. Developers are pretty much by themselves with no clear coordination or escalation / decision-making instance. While this can work just fine for smaller teams, in my experience, it completely breaks down at team sizes of 20 or higher. Most of the teams these people work in are much larger. With no competent “head of” there is usually no interest in the concerns of the developers. Technological debt grows at a very high rate and even small features take forever to build.

What I hear very often, too, is that there’s no focus on the customer. Features get built for the marketing department or, in some cases, even the investors. But the customer often comes last. What follows is a lack of focus, almost no long-term goals, daily new requirements, often contradicting the request of the day before. We all know startups are fast pace. But I tend to believe one should try to keep their developers happy by having clear goals and a clear path leading to those goals. Goals may change but if they change daily, there’s probably something wrong.

One of the major complaints, of course, is low salaries. In a world where a developer can command a good salary at a non-startup institution (think SAP or Accenture), I’m surprised startups can attract developers at all. Offering Club Mate for free does seem to help. But startup employees in Germany have yet to get rich on stock options. It’s starting to dawn on a lot of them that the wait will be infinitely long.

Many of the mentioned startups are big ones, some of them with actual revenue, and you read about them every week on the German startup blogs. So these may just be anecdotes and things are just dandy among the startup devs. Or technology is just not important if you’ve found a market that works and where you don’t have a lot of competition. I’m not sure.

But still, my feeling is that if Berlin gets a company that highly values developers, respects them, and makes developers want to work for it, that company can become a game changer. Soundcloud seems to be such a case. I’m sure it won’t be the last one.