The war to attract top developer talent rages on. Developers know they are in high demand, and if you want to have a chance of recruiting them, you need to treat them well. 

The Developer Experience — or DX — could be your strongest weapon in this. That’s how you win their hearts and minds. Because not only do you attract developers, you also keep them happy and productive. 

So how do you create a great DX?

Sometimes you need to think outside the box. To find inspiration to make this your competitive edge, you can’t simply copy what other software companies do — that’s how you become average.

You can find excellence in any walk of life. Learn from the best, regardless of which industry they happen to be in.  

I will now share with you some crucial lessons from the restaurant industry. From no other restaurant than Noma, in Denmark: the world’s best restaurant. 

Lessons from Noma

Noma was named the world’s best restaurant last year — as it has several times in recent years. 

A friend of mine who works there as a chef told me how they had turned things around just like many software companies wish they had. Here is the story, and the lessons.

In the service kitchen they have five stations, producing 16 dishes for the guests. 

Each dish is an experience in itself. An innovation with only the best ingredients: some as fresh as can be, and some prepared months in advance. 

How would for example reindeer brain custard sprinkled with pollen, scooped from the skull, sound like?

As a guest, your whole visit to Noma is a masterclass in UX. Every little detail is a well-thought-out part of a user experience you will never forget. Details like:

  • How you enter the building

  • How each chef welcomes you

  • How each dish builds the story of the full experience

But while UX is one factor in their success, another crucial one is how each employee feels when they are preparing the dishes, interacting with the guests, or performing any crucial task. In software development, we call this the Developer Experience, or DX. 

The problem

Attracting guests from around the world, Noma was on a mission to grow the number of guests they could serve. But this came at a great cost. It had a risk of hurting their DX and leading to more stress and an unsustainable working culture.

And it wouldn’t stop there: poor DX usually translates into poor UX! So the company realized it had to react. 

If you work in a company that develops software, you have seen that usually UX gets almost all the attention. DX is an afterthought — at best.

The same applies for modern DevOps metrics like:

  • Deployment frequency

  • Lead time

  • Failure rate

  • Recovery time

Staring only at these metrics, and neglecting DX, is a recipe for failure. 

Watch Marko Klemetti's lightning talk on this topic at The DEVOPS Conference and other talks about Developer Experience here.

The solutions

Noma has learned their lessons, and I will now share those lessons with you.

1. Self-organized teams

In the service kitchen, Noma is organized into five stations that together create a successful product — or in this case an experience. Each station is responsible for particular dishes and they have full responsibility for their success.

It helps scale up production without experiencing the bottlenecks I’m sure you are familiar with in software development as well. 

2. Moving from high to low context

It is crucial to provide people with understandable information at the right time. Too often organizations assume everyone understands the detailed information of each separate tool or that their teams, such as development and security, have the same requirements and expectations.

At Noma, you will feel safe and welcome, and there are no unspoken rules or expectations. You will be guided through the experience, and you receive the necessary information before you need it.

By following these principles, it’s also easier to employ trainees around the world, and have them relatively quickly working on the dishes and the experience of each guest.

There is a constant global shortage of developers. The harder it is for you to get your new developers to be productive, the harder it will be to scale, or even to maintain your current speed. 

3. Make compliance part of the process from the very beginning

In the kitchen, you cannot have the head of each station, to say that something that was prepared months ago is not “compliant”. That is simply too late.

Similarly, in IT we should not hear from the security team that a feature created months ago is not compliant.

With the security tools available today, and modern DevOps processes in place, you can and should build common expectations between the dev and security teams. Aligning your information flow, and reacting to changes or problems early, makes the work more enjoyable and ensures you can still make changes to your product or service.

Find your right balance

A lot of the answers to make a development organization better, and building an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome, are found in DevOps. You need a paradigm that enables you to leverage learnings from the more traditional professions, where the practices have been crafted sometimes for hundreds of years.

To do this, in my experience, the best organizations today treat user experience and developer experience equally. And DevOps is the key that enables you to build them at the same time. 

I encourage you to visit a restaurant like Noma at least once. But in the meantime, you can take their learnings and bring those back into your organization.

Published: Dec 16, 2022

Updated: Dec 18, 2023