Developer Alumni

It’s not unusual for a developer to change jobs every two or three years or even more often. Up until 2004 I had never thought of a company keeping up with you after you left or having an ‘Alumni’ concept. The consulting outfit I left had instituted an alumni program and sent me out a tiny flash stick with the company logo on it about a year after I left. It was a small thing, but I was kind of impressed they bothered with any effort at all. In addition they sent out an email every month or so with an update on how their business was going. About 6 years later I ended up back at the same company, partially because they had maintained a good relationship with me, and realized I left not so much because of them, but more for an opportunity to manage a development teams.

I came across this practice again in the most recent episode of The Front Side Podcast where they explained they were trying to build the company culture that allowed you to just tell your manager you were going on an interview. This is exactly the sort of thing to get you escorted out in many big companies, but they seem to be experimenting with having a very open and honest culture that admits, especially in consulting that many of your developers will leave at some point sometimes even over to your clients. They wanted an environment where a developer could admit they wanted a new experience the consulting business couldn’t provide and they left the door open down the road as Alumni to welcome them back.

I think it’s a great experiment and I’m honestly impressed if they can produce a company culture where an employee feels safe admitting they’re going on an interview. I love that companies are experimenting and blogging/podcasting on how it’s going. I also think the alumni idea is a great way to keep people motivated and maintain a good relationship with your local development community. I know some of the best recruiters I had were former employees who could explain why they left the company, but how it was a great opportunity if you were a good fit.

Professional Services Alumni

About half my career has been inside professional service firms. The work has quite a few perks and you’re constantly pushed to learn new things. Having spent quite a bit of time within IT departments as a manager I did sometimes missed the wealth of different clients and projects you’re exposed to as a consultant.

I’m not sure how common the practice is, but after leaving my last professional services firm about five years ago they let me know they considered me part of the alumni network. I remember thinking it was a novel way to approach employees who leave your company on good terms. I’m not sure how common the approach is, but I think it pays significant dividends. Over a few years I got a few little goodies in the mail including a USB key at one point and I ended up doing a few very short engagements to help out the local office.

For the professional services firm this sort of practice is a little extra effort, but pays particular dividends:

  • You maintain a good relationship with former employees which helps in a small way your overall brand.
  • Those employees may send prospective new employees your way who are already well recommended.
  • Former employees may need some professional services and you’re often invited to compete for work.
  • The alumni member may throw some leads your way when they find out about potential projects.
  • Those alumni members may someday return to your firm bringing back valuable experiences from their time outside the firm.

As I now find myself returning to the fold with my former firm, I’m impressed with the little extra effort they took to stay in touch.