When most people picture a developer, chances are they’re not immediately jumping to images of vast creativity and self-expression. More likely, it’s someone sitting hunched at a desk, face illuminated by the blue glow of a screen. But the truth is, any Dev worth their salt is full of creative ideas and potential.
Developers are, at their core, creators. They take a screen full of endless code and turn it into something tangible, functional, and incredible.
Creativity is the driving force behind the development and is at the core of the development process. So how can you foster this creativity in your Dev team?
The space for creativity
From the very start of my career to now, the freedom I’ve been given to be creative has been one of the best parts of what I do. As a consultant for pharmaceutical companies, I had the ability to template and build frameworks from the ground up. My next role followed the same theme of invention, with the addition of automation. At MI Pro, I culminated this experience to develop the architecture for what became Survey Design – a tool we still use at Walr today. Throughout my career, I’ve been given the space to create and experiment, which is key to good tech.
Building a space for creativity needs to happen in both a physical and a figurative sense. What I mean by that is that you must give your Devs the physical and mental space they need to access the most brilliant ideas.
At Walr, we’re a global, remote-first company. However, we always encourage our Devs to come into the office where possible because we believe this is how creativity is really fostered. When you can get everyone together in one place, the speed of what can be achieved increases, along with our ability to generate new and fresh ideas. To support this, we make the office a place that our Devs want to be.
You can’t expect your Devs to be inspired by being forced to come into a white-walled room. We paint all the walls and ensure there are sofas and comfortable spaces for our Devs to feel at home. Break-out areas are incredibly important for hosting open and creative conversations (more on this later), and we have a big, open outdoor rooftop where our Devs can take breaks and enjoy their lunch.
To give your Devs the physical space they need to be truly creative, you need to create a cool and interesting space that’s going to inspire them.
Getting the most creativity from your Devs also means providing them with the mental space they need to generate exciting ideas. This is done in a number of ways. One of them is implementing formal idea generation time.
Mental space can also be created in an informal manner. Offsite time is also incredibly important for creativity. We try to socialise after work and host lots of fun events for our team. We’re also lucky enough to be able to utilise cabins that we have in Norway and Sweden. We all head out there and open our laptops. We work, we socialise, we chat, and we cook. We go with a problem to solve and work together until we crack it. It’s a great bonding experience and really allows us to get to know each other. And this is yet another thing that’s vital to a creative Dev team. You have to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You have to be able to draw on each other for inspiration.
Another important element of giving your Devs the mental space is cultivating trust among your team. We embrace failure at Walr because that’s how creative, exciting things happen. Make sure you’re letting your Devs try and play with new ideas. Make sure they aren’t too scared of failure to push boundaries. We want failure. Failure is how we learn and improve! And it’s how your Devs will learn and improve. Give them psychological safety to know it’s okay if it doesn’t work the first time.
Leading by example
As CTO, it’s my job to lead my team with the creative mindset I preach. My role is largely centred around encouraging creativity – talking to people, listening to their ideas and getting people involved with new solutions. I need to be in tune with the team and find out what they need. For example, we now have TV screens in the office with a live dashboard telling everyone how many people we’re currently surveying. This was at their request and has been a fantastic way to keep everyone engaged and motivated.
It’s my job to demonstrate the mindsets, actions and attitudes that we want from our Dev team. Being a good Dev means having a good sense of humour (the highest form of intelligence, if you ask me), and being open, collaborative and curious. The best Devs already have these key qualities, and we make sure to encourage and praise those qualities around the office.
Creating with code
Devs are incredible creative problem solvers and work best when supported to utilise this level of creativity. For me, the opportunity to gather around a table and discuss complex problems is really rewarding. We bounce ideas as a Dev team. We create space for experimentation.
As a dynamic scale-up, there are no limits when it comes to creativity. It is a highly rewarding and fluid environment. All you need is the willingness to learn and the ability to take the initiative to create amazing things.