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What Motivates (Some of) Us

19/12/2008

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A number of weeks ago I asked readers to tell me what motivates them. The most original/inspiring contribution was awarded with $100 worth of software development books. Some of my colleagues acted as an independent jury, and Russell Ball, the author of the Caffeinated Coder blog, was selected as the winner, because of the great blog post he wrote on this subject. (And Russell's blatant attampts at unashamed begging did not even make a difference!)

In this post I just want to share some highlights of the many emails that I got. The list below should serve as a reminder that your team members' motivation is often very personal, and can be as undefineable, unpredictable (and ridiculous) as their tastes in food, music, and (wo)men. On the other hand, the list can also serve as a sanity check for our own motivation. Software development is a great profession. If you look at this list, isn't it hard to be not motivated…?

The original question:
What is it that gets you motivated to do your job really well?

Note: most people sent me large emails with many reasons for motivation. But these particular lines, hand-picked from those emails, somehow grabbed my attention…

  • Seeing you have made a difference in this transient life. (James Soh)
  • The feeling of control that I have over the computer when I code. (Hrishikesh Barua)
  • The main part of my motivation comes from knowing that I can implement things that make people's lives easier. (Jeremiah Dodds)
  • The biggest motivation is pride. [...] It's the honor code that binds and also, and most importantly, you. You're the biggest motivation to yourself. (Bogdan Nicolau)
  • The personal desire (or more like the attitude) to become better on both a professional and personal level. You want to become a better person. (Angelo Anolin)
  • To participate in the design process, give my opinion and get listened to, even if I'm still young and newly arrived. (Sébastien)
  • My boss tries to motivate me with books. I make a list of what will be ordered, and when the books arrive they will be first on my table. When I see the pile of books it makes me happy. (Marek)
  • When I am so absorbed in my work that time flies by and I suddenly realize that 4 hours have gone by when it only felt like 10 minutes. (Russell Ball)
  • "It's not the strongest of the species that survive, but those most able to adapt." – My answer is Adaptation. (Minseok Choi)
  • Treating me as a human and not as another "Resource" by project managers. (Krishnan Thodla)
  • Success – It has a self-catalytic effect. One success will boost your confidence. (Rejeev Divakaran)
  • For me there's nothing more rewarding than others who like what I'm creating. (Florian Feigenbutz)
  • Basically, the end result of my work is an expression of me, much like a painting is an expression of its painter. (Rolando Caloca Olivares)
  • The rush of finding the solution to that problem that everyone else was frustrated by. (Bill Colacci)
  • The CEO of the company I work for. [...] He is the shining example I try to live up to. And he inspires me to do my work just that tiny bit better every day. (Sonja)
  • A word of "Thank you" from end-users. (Sung)
  • When a task/business trip/debug session or something else is finished. [...] Doing my job REALLY well and feeling that I deserve free time is for me the main motivation. (Vadym Shkil)
  • Simplicity! To create something as simple as possible, but still delivering enough value. (Carl Byström)
  • I'm motivated by the fact that, compared with all those google engineers and a-list bloggers, I still suck. That's ok, since I'm still at the beginning of my career, but I want to get better constantly. (Michael)
  • When I meet someone who actually uses our web sites, and really really likes them. (Jan Miczaika)
  • Money. I know, this doesn't sound like a great inspiration to many. [...] I know there are people who can't be motivated by money. Kudos to them. I, on the other hand, am living in a real world, with house mortgage to pay, myself to feed, and bills to cover. [...] If I can get a large sum of money for doing a good job, then that will definitely boost my morale. (Ngu Soon Hui)
  • Trust from a manager. I am especially referring to the time after a project is completed… if the project was done successfully, being trusted with another critical project and more responsibility on the project. (Brad Schafbuch)
  • My passion for software engineering, especially in PM methodology & Process. (Red River)
  • Adding a real new value to the world, by doing something I enjoy. (Emad Alashi)
  • An active collaborating, self-improving and happy development team, using new technologies to bring our products and new features faster to market. (Henk J. Meulenkamp)
  • Seeing the most jaded, beaten-up, grumpy grey haired old waiting-for-retirement public servant in the institution I work at break out of the boundaries they'd created for their position and create something new. (Karl Katzke)
  • A token of appreciation from all the stakeholders when a milestone is achieved. (Ramesh)
  • My love for software. (Vasileios Dimitriadis)

As I said, I received much more than this. (I trust you will thank me for not copy-pasting everything.) This is just a non-random sample, but it nicely reflects the diversity of people's motivation in software development.

(photo by Martin Kingsley)

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This article is written by on in People & Motivation. Jurgen Appelo is at Happy Melly. Connect with Jurgen Appelo on .

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p010536811701970b Jilles Oldenbeuving

    Jurgen, was trying to post this via Twitter but didn’t have room for your name behind the @-sign anymore ;-)
    “Best motivation is to make life easier for the end-user, for me at Marktplaats: giving people at the poverty line a fighting chance.”
    And it really helps helping create a product/software that has a social relevance (as opposed to software for, say, a huge bank, etc)

  • roberto

    oh my, is it the real world?
    what about good old money and glory?
    ooops it wasn’t me! :)