Finding Your Motivation

Motivation is a key element to job satisfaction and getting things done be they job related or not. In this episode we discussed some ways to increase your motivation and help find what motivates you.

Motivation Factors

Frederick Hersberg studied 200 engineers and accountants and formulated a two factor theory of employee satisfaction. These factors are the hygiene factors and the motivation factors. Hygiene factors are those negative reinforcements necessary to insure employees are not dissatisfied. Motivation factors are positive reinforcements that build faith in the company’s future growth lead to employee satisfaction and a highly desirable job.

Hygiene Factors

  • working conditions
  • quality of supervision
  • salary
  • safety

Motivation Factors

  • achievement
  • recognition
  • responsibility
  • personal growth

How The Company Can Help

The three areas when looking at a company for employment or at your own company are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Does the company promote autonomy? Are you allowed to achieve mastery of your field by learning new things? Finally, how are you recognized for you work? Are you building something that matters?


How does the company set you up for success? It starts with excellent management. Managers do not need to have coded before to be excellent. A manager’s job is to facilitate you doing your job better. They will do this by scheduling meetings at regular times and sticking to the agenda so that the meetings will not last longer than expected. Excellent managers also limit the amount of “Red Tape” that developers must deal with when writing code. Outside of management and bureaucracy the fewer legacy constraints the better the working environment. Finally under autonomy having a voice in decisions or knowing that your voice is heard goes a long way toward promoting an autonomous working environment.


Learning new skills and technologies is how we grow as developers. A company that values motivation in it’s developers will encourage and facilitate the mastery of skills and the learning of new ones. Just as with having few legacy constraints adds to autonomy having creative freedom adds to mastery. When solving problems the right kinds of problems will lead to mastery whereas the wrong problems will lead to frustration and burn-out. Developers want technical challenges that teach new skills, preferably ones everyone is talking about.


Recognition especially from management encourages developers and leads to a motivating working environment. Development frustrates and discourages through repeated trial and error of code. Receiving recognition for hard work in solving a difficult problem even if it is just a pat on the back and a “good job on that” promotes a motivating workplace. Most people want to know that what they are doing matters or makes a difference. This can be difficult when writing something like internal accounting software. Appreciation from the end users of that software puts a face to the product, shows that the code matters, and motivates developers.

Finding Your Motivation

Looking beyond the silly online quizzes, how do you find what motivates you to be a better developer? To start, look at your response to expectations, both outer expectations of the job and your employer and the inner expectations you have for yourself. Next identify the rewards that will motivate you. Catalog the extrinsic rewards such as money as well as the intrinsic rewards such as learning a new skill, overcoming a challenge, curiosity, and a sense of control.

Response to Expectations

In her book  Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives Gretchen Rubin explains that expectations come in two forms internal expectations and external expectations. Internal expectations are the ones we place upon ourselves also known as self motivation. External expectations are the ones placed on us by others such as job requirements. She goes further to add that people fall into four categories of how we respond to expectation: upolders, questioners, obligers, and rebels.

Upholders respond well to both internal and external expectations. They are self starters and self directed in their approach to meeting expectations. However they struggle when expectations are not made clear and have trouble with ambiguous requests or demands.

Questioners will only meet expectations if they believe the expectation is like the alignment of text in this post: justified. Being very intellectually engaged they work well with upholders by asking the questions that disambiguate expectations. They can suffer from “analysis paralysis” by always wanting more information and not ever getting started.

Obligers excel at meeting external demands. They are everyone’s favorite person to have on a team because they always meet or exceed expectations. That is until they burn themselves out due to not meeting internal expectations. The desire excellence with external expectations does not carry over to internal and they can find it difficult to be given too much autonomy. They will have trouble with self motivation.

Rebels resist all expectations placing a high value on autonomy, authenticity, and self-determination. They can be their own worst enemy at times and frustrating to coworkers and themselves. In the right situation they work well with questioners but may instigate “analysis paralysis” if they do not see the benefit in what they are doing.

Rewarding Yourself

In behavioral psychology rewards are termed positive reinforcement because they add (positive) a beneficial element for a behavior. Positive reinforcement comes as either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. The extrinsic are external motivators usually provided by others whereas the intrinsic contain the elements of lasting self motivation.

Extrinsic Rewards

Rewarding children with extra TV time for finishing their homework exemplifies extrinsic positive reinforcement. In the workforce this is analogous to bonuses and pay raises or praise and recognition for hard work.

Intrinsic Rewards

Intrinsic rewards include the feelings of accomplishment when finishing a difficult challenge or learning a new skill. A sense of control over our own bodies and behavior and having curiosity that is satisfied both lead to high levels of intrinsic reward.


Once you’ve found what motivates you now is the time to maintain that motivation and to be self motivated. Do this by learning new technologies, enhancing your skills regularly, and preparing for the future.

Learning New Technologies

Set reasonable targets that are achievable on a regular basis. Use a goal setting plan or follow a course outline to learn and develop new skills. Keep in mind the difference between resume and workforce driven development. Resume driven development uses the newest most cutting edge technologies whereas workforce driven development may not seem as exciting. Workforce development looks to produce lasting maintainable code by using established technologies. Both have pros and cons so we as developers must know when to use each one.

Enhancing Skills

When learning new skills don’t forget to practice the older skills so they don’t get rusty. A great way to do this is to set aside 10-15 minutes each morning or evening for code katas. A kata is a martial arts term describing a specific set of movements practiced repetitively. Just as you would not use code katas in productions martial arts katas are not for sparring or fighting but to develop the habits and “muscle memory” to aid in the actual fighting. Think “wax on, wax off” from The Karate Kid.

Prepare for the Future

Create a plan of action for both long term and short term goals. Start by creating an overarching picture of what you want to accomplish in the next 5, 10, or 15 years. Think of this like the namespace for the project of your action plan. Divide each of these into chunks of 3, 6, or 12 month large long term goals. These are your classes within the namespace. Next break each of these down further to 30, 60, or 90 day short term goals and tasks. This will be your methods for each class. Finally from these set your tasks to accomplish daily, weekly, or monthly. Using a checklist or to do list software can help with this last step. Here at Complete Developer Podcast we use Nozbe for our task lists.

Potential Hindrances

Ending out the post are a few potential hindrances to becoming and staying self motivated. First and most important to overcome is habit. Perceived cost be they monetary or temporal hinder grow and motivation for those with a lack of means to accomplish their goals. Finally not being truthful with ourselves about what we want can destroy motivation.


We are creatures of habit and once we have one it can be difficult to stop. Habits can be a boon or a bane for self motivation. Developing healthy habits such as daily code katas and time set aside for personal growth and learning will build motivation. For example here at Complete Developer Podcast we record every Monday night. It has become a habit and Will’s family expects that Monday nights he will be down in his office recording. However bad habits can be detrimental to motivation. Coming home in the evening and vegging out in front of the TV will not help meet long term goals. Schedules and allowing down time in a schedule can help to alleviate poor habits we may have formed.

Lack of Means

Be it money, time, or resources perceived costs of our goals can lead to a sense that we lack the means to meet or accomplish them. A great demotivating factor lack of means of the perceived costs will destroy a goal before it is even started. To combat this build a cost-benefit analysis of accomplishing your goal. Will the benefits outweigh the costs of the goal? If you truly do not have the means put this goal further down the line and work on one that is less expensive in the constrained resource. If money is the resource but the goal is of great value push it out and set a shorter term goal of saving up the money for when you are ready to begin that goal.

Not Truthful About Wants

We are not always truthful with ourselves about what we want. This lack of self truth can lead us to follow goals that are not important to us and will ultimately destroy motivation not only for that goal but future goals. Another aspect to consider is that goals change with time. Your goals as a teenager will not be the same as your goals in college, or in the workforce. Regular review will combat both changing goals and ones that we are not truthful with ourselves about.

For more on setting and reviewing goals check out our Goal Setting episode.

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