How to Build a Strong Engineering Culture

Hire Remote Developers
Rafael Timbó
Rafael Timbó
Chief Technology Officer

Table of Contents

Engineering culture is as important as salary for employee satisfaction and retention. It also sets the tone for how team members interact with one another. Designing a robust engineering culture lays the foundation for open lines of communication, increased engagement levels, and strong retention rates.
Published on
April 11, 2024
Updated on
April 22, 2024

The technical requirements of an engineering job are similar from company to company. But how it feels to walk into work every day differs depending on the organization. That difference is culture, and it matters more than you may think. In fact, a Glassdoor study found that over half of workers consider company culture more important than their salary.

This difference may be more prevalent in the tech industry than in other fields. Technology is all about innovation and iteration, and employees often expect the company culture to reflect these core values. Industry experts understand this all too well. Google, for example, offers its employees free meals and regular access to TED Talks, among other cool perks.

Engineering culture sets the tone for how people feel about waking up and heading to work in the tech sector. A bland — or, worse, oppressive — culture can cause employees to drag their heels and even look for work elsewhere. Meanwhile, an exciting, innovative engineering culture can drive engagement and improve retention rates.

The good news is that engineering managers can directly impact their team's culture for the better, and this article explains how.

What Is Engineering Culture?

Engineering culture refers to the collective mindset of an engineering team. It includes concepts like shared values, techniques, and beliefs.

Although the individuals who make up an engineering team contribute to the overall culture, the work environment also significantly impacts what that culture looks like. For instance, these factors can contribute to how employees feel at work:

  • The physical appeal of the work environment, such as wall colors, artwork, and office layout
  • Whether the equipment is ergonomic, up-to-date, and comfortable to use
  • Options for breaks so employees can give themselves time to reset and rest
  • Paying employees a living wage and providing different benefits
  • How employees talk to each other, how managers talk to employees, and how employees speak to managers

How managers treat and equip employees to do their jobs communicates core brand values. Managers who constantly check in on employees, monitor their behavior at work, and track the time they spend taking breaks communicate a lack of trust in their team and an expectation that hours worked matter more than results achieved. On the other hand, managers who offer flexible hours, unlimited PTO, and room for breaks communicate trust in their team and show that they value work-life balance.

However, although workplace benefits, salaries, and other factors inform organizational culture, they do not define the cultures of individual teams. Other factors, including managerial styles, professional development opportunities, and personal ethos, can cause different teams within the same organization to have different cultures.

For example, fostering an engineering culture — compared to other team-specific cultures — involves promoting open communication, regular feedback, continuous learning, autonomy, ownership, adaptability, and collaborative environments. These pillars will enable engineers to do their best jobs and develop tools and software that meet and predict customers' needs.

The Importance of a Strong Engineering Culture

World-class, high-performing engineering comes from engineers who are passionate, creative, and driven to succeed. Tech companies can recruit top talent. But without an environment that supports passion, creativity, and drive, even the best engineers will burn out and fail to perform.

Salaries and benefits provide employees with financial security. But if you want employees to access the problem-solving, decision-making, and creative skills necessary to excel, they need more than just security. They also need a culture that encourages them to have a balanced life, communicate openly and effectively, and grow over time.

A strong engineering culture provides a foundation to meet these needs. To get the most out of their team members, engineering managers have to offer engineering teams:

  • The right tools and tech stacks to get their job done
  • Ongoing training and professional development to foster a growth mindset
  • Communication strategies and training to facilitate teamwork, cooperation, and partnerships
  • Flexibility and adaptability so engineers feel safe taking risks, making mistakes, and enjoying work-life balance.

A strong engineering culture benefits not just individual teams but the organization as a whole. Creative, engaged engineers will find better solutions to problems. They are also more likely to stay with the organization longer, leading to fewer gaps. As they advance their skills over time, employees can also identify and address skill gaps within the company, make more thoughtful decisions, and become part of the organization's succession plans.

Key Strategies to Build a Great Engineering Culture

Building a strong engineering culture is more than bringing a positive attitude into the workplace. It’s about empowering engagement by creating a space where employees feel safe, supported, and trusted. This can take significant time and resources to get right.

Shifting your engineering culture isn’t going to happen overnight. Build a roadmap for implementing changes within your team and follow it continuously.

Your roadmap may include choosing which aspects of your engineering culture to prioritize. As you begin making those decisions, consider these strategies for building a sustainable, positive culture where your team can thrive.

Use Proper Tools

Outdated tools slow production; tasks take longer, are less efficient, and lack security. It’s almost impossible to create an agile engineering team if the tools your team is using are slow.

Take time to research software engineering tools and best practices. In addition to looking for tools to increase your team’s productivity, consider investing in analytics tools to help your team track important metrics such as customer feedback.

Investing in proper tools for your team is one of the most expensive ways to improve engineering culture. But it’s also one of the most important things to do. Updating your application programming interface (API) and investing in a secure tech stack gives your team what they need to grow their skills and improve their production.

Leverage Automation Opportunities

Fostering a growth mindset is an essential part of improving company culture. Part of that growth mindset means ensuring your engineers feel challenged but not overburdened.

Automating mundane workflows and data entry tasks helps boost your team’s efficiency while freeing your engineers to tackle tasks requiring more creativity or critical thinking skills. It helps teams to complete the same amount of work in less time, allowing you to offer more flexibility on hours and create a culture that values work/life balance. All this can boost employee satisfaction and retention.

Practice Continuous Learning

Emerging technology continually changes the landscape of the engineering industry. Your team should have what it takes to advance alongside that technology.

Providing opportunities for continuous improvement and learning can include:

  • Investing in onboarding and training content
  • Implementing a peer-to-peer mentorship program
  • Cross-training engineers with other roles and responsibilities
  • Sending team members to workshops or conferences
  • Paying for higher education opportunities

The more strategies and methodologies you use, the more likely you are to shift your team culture into one that values and prioritizes continuous learning.

Perform Code Reviews

Code reviews help you provide better software to your customers by catching errors before they go live. Whether you do peer-to-peer or managerial code reviews, having a second set of eyes reviewing lines of code reduces errors, shares knowledge, and fosters collaboration.

The key to integrating this into your culture is ensuring that code reviews go both ways. If one person is always correcting another person, or the original developer feels like they’re in trouble when they make mistakes, you can create tension in your team. Instead of praising people who catch errors, treat the code review process as a team effort and praise both the original author and the reviewer for their results.

Embrace Workplace Flexibility

Research shows that workers want more workplace flexibility. Embracing this as part of your workplace culture shows your engineers that you care about them, their time, and their values. It promotes a relationship of give-and-take and fosters a sense of trust. Other benefits of workplace flexibility include increased productivity, less worker burnout, and decreased absenteeism.

Options for increasing flexibility in the workplace include:

  • Offering four-day workweeks
  • Providing remote work or hybrid work opportunities
  • Giving employees unlimited PTO
  • Allowing employees to choose their starting hours each day

Include Communication Training

Clear and collaborative communication doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Different engineers will have different communication styles and strategies.

Investing in communication training can reduce the gaps between these differing styles. This could include standard training during onboarding, where you set parameters for workplace emails and phone calls. But it could also mean organizing one-on-one communication mentorship, investing in communication and team-building workshops, and inviting speakers to come in and help engineers learn to communicate more effectively.

Remember to practice what you preach when focusing on communication. If you say you value direct communication, you shouldn’t be sending team-wide emails to address the actions of a single team member.  

Adopt a Team-Oriented Mindset

Engineering teams thrive when team members feel comfortable brainstorming, collaborating, and sharing information. Too often, companies push engineering teams to be competitive, and leaders praise individuals for their accomplishments, which can generate an atmosphere of individualism and information hoarding. You can combat this by being careful to praise team efforts and team results rather than individual processes.

Implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness

The most innovative teams are usually the most diverse. Implementing diversity, equity, and inclusiveness (DEI) efforts can change your team's dynamics. With more viewpoints on the table, you can bolster creativity and ultimately increase your bottom line.

The tech industry is known for having major culture and gender gaps. On many teams, it’s still the “good old boys” club. Changing this involves more than just updating your hiring practices. It also means ensuring your workplace is inclusive, safe, and welcoming for people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, and socioeconomic classes. It means eliminating wage gaps, taking harassment and bullying complaints seriously, and investing in sensitivity training across the board.

Examples of Successful Engineer Cultures

As you begin changing your engineering culture, look toward culture experts for inspiration. Here are some engineering culture examples from top companies.

Celebrating Diversity With RingCentral

RingCentral received an award for the best engineering team in 2022. One of its initiatives was about celebrating diversity in a very real way. Among some of its DEI efforts, RingCentral has offered its engineering team food inspired by Filipino culture, presented Indian dancing during Diwali, and celebrated Nowruz (Iranian New Year).

RingCentral also promotes workplace satisfaction with unlimited vacation and sick days, access to mental health professionals, and healthy in-house lunches. As a result, 84% of RingCentral employees are happy to work there.

Improving Education With Shopify

Shopify is one of the prime examples of excellence in engineering culture. The company invested in its future by committing to continual learning in a way that has a real-world impact on its teams. Its free Dev Degree Program combines classes at accredited universities with real-life Shopify work experience. The result is that Shopify can hire and onboard new team members quickly. The company has a system that works and engages new employees right away.

Promoting Autonomy With Spotify

Spotify sidesteps micromanagement and promotes a growth culture by giving its employees near-complete autonomy while working. The company puts community and trust above outdated hierarchies, organizing teams into squads or tribes that support each other while valuing individual contributions.

The result of this increased autonomy is stunning — a whopping 94% of Spotify employees are satisfied with their work culture.

Challenges in Shifting Engineering Culture

Any time you try to make changes in the workplace, you’re bound to encounter resistance. Trying new things can be difficult, especially for team members who have been in the organization for a long time.

This can be more difficult if organizational leaders are also resistant to change. Having a lack of leadership buy-in can bottleneck the changes you’re making. This can be especially true if you’re pushing for more balance for your software development team, including more break times to foster creativity, while organizational leaders are pushing your team to work later hours to meet tight deadlines.

One of the best ways to combat this is to push back against unrealistic deadlines. Show organizational leaders statistics regarding the importance of work-life balance in fostering innovation and creativity, and fight for your development team to have the time and space to create exceptional software while nurturing a healthy culture.

Enhance Your Engineering Culture With Revelo Developers

Creating the right software engineering culture for your team is an ongoing, intentional process. It involves working closely with organizational leaders to provide a safe, comfortable, engaging work environment with competitive benefits. But it also means hiring individuals who can breathe new life into the team and who can thrive in the environment you're creating.

That's where Revelo comes in. We match businesses with rigorously vetted developers with the technical and soft skills necessary to join your team. Once you know these basics are covered, you can use interviews to conduct behavioral assessments to find candidates who will bring new ideas and innovation to your team.

Learn more about how Revelo can help and begin hiring top talent now.

Need to source and hire remote software developers?

Get matched with vetted candidates within 3 days.

Related blog posts

How to Mentor Junior Developers: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Mentor Junior Developers

Rafael Timbó
Tech Team Management
The Benefits of Squad-Based Agile Development

The Benefits of Squad-Based Agile Development

Rafael Timbó
Tech Team Management
Talent Development Strategies to Foster Growth on Your Tech Team

Talent Development Strategies

Bruna Vasconcelos
Employer Resources

Subscribe to the Revelo Newsletter

Get the best insights on remote work, hiring, and engineering management in your inbox.

Subscribe and be the first to hear about our new products, exclusive content, and more.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Hire Developers