What motivates web developers to do the extraordinary?

James Norton
Dec 8, 2015 · 3 min read

After many years building websites, I am totally convinced that web development is far more art than science. In fact I wrote about that in my previous post.

Artists often have to field questions about their motivation. Where do they get their inspiration from and how do they motivate themselves to create amazing work time and again? I feel that web developers can answer the same questions. Why do we come to work every day and challenge ourselves to create extraordinary experiences, to push our runtime environment — the browser — to such extremes?

Of course things are easier today than they were, at least where the basics are concerned. In my working life, I don’t have to support really old web browsers and can focus largely on standards based implementations. Nonetheless, something motivates all of us to keep pushing, and not just at work but often at home in our own time as well.

I believe there are three things that can answer this question and I try to enable all teams and individuals I lead to achieve these:

1. Purpose

How many times have you been working on a project where the purpose, the planned outcome, the meaning behind the work was not well understood? I know I have been there and it wasn’t pleasant. Yes, we delivered but it was never work I was proud of. It was never work that hit the heights of what was possible.

Having a purpose in your work and indeed anything you set out to achieve in life is important. It provides meaning and context to your activities and helps to frame the outcome. A happy by-product is that success becomes simpler to measure and that helps with what is surely the greatest motivator of all; the feeling of achievement.

2. Mastery

It takes a huge amount of work and effort to go from being competent at something to the next level, yet that difference has driven me time and time again. Mastery is something we can all take pleasure in, so how best to achieve it? There is no simple way, only hard work and repetition can get us there but it is worth it. I like to give my teams and more importantly the individuals within those teams a chance to gain expertise at everything they do.

Creating an environment in which people and teams can grow in this way means accepting that sometimes things go wrong. We are not born perfect and people have to be able to experiment, test their abilities and learn.

3. Self direction

No-one really likes to be told what to do and yet that is a part of the reality of working. Perhaps the biggest motivation for web developers taking on projects outside of work is to feel what it is like to be self directed. To take all the decisions and be responsible for all the outcomes.

The best projects I have worked on have been led by people who understand when to let the team off the leash and self direct. Tough as it might be, I have worked hard to incorporate this into my team leadership style. The tricky part is not so much letting go, if you trust your people they generally reward you with great work. Instead it is far harder to recognise the moment to step in and put the team back on the right footing. Going in too early risks de-motivating everyone but leave it too late and the project could suffer.

Are you feeling motivated?

Ask yourself this question. If your answer is in the negative then maybe one of these three key motivating forces is missing. It can be demoralising and can stifle your development, but recognising it is the first step to changing how you feel. Let others around you have these freedoms and maybe, just maybe, you will be offered them for yourself.

Feel free to hit ♥ below if you found this post useful.

James Norton

Written by

I love tech. I love the web. I love building successful products and teams. I work at ASOS doing all these things (but these opinions are entirely my own!)

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