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Level Up Your Software Engineer Performance Review [+Examples]

Level up your software engineer performance review with these 6 tips. Plus, get free meeting agenda templates!

By Brier Cook  •   September 26, 2022  •   7 min read

It’s almost Q4 again, which means your year-end performance reviews are quickly approaching! If you’re managing software engineers, you likely base these reviews on quantifiable metrics alongside more subjective criteria. 

No matter how many times you give performance reviews, they never seem to get easier. The best thing you can do for yourself and your employees is to prepare, especially if you find these reviews nerve-wracking! 

Let’s take a look at performance reviews for software engineers, the benefits of these reviews, and tips that can help you conduct effective ones that motivate your employees to improve. 

What is a software engineering performance review? 

There are a few different types of performance reviews you can give your software engineers. Some of the most common types include manager reviews, self-appraisals, and peer reviews. 

One of the most effective ways to see how a direct report is doing is by completing a 360 evaluation. This type of evaluation involves gathering feedback about a teammate’s performance from the teammate and their peers, managers, and direct reports. Did you know that you can use Fellow’s 360 degree feedback tool to easily deliver the right feedback questions to each of your direct reports and compile all the feedback in one place for easy review? 

What are the benefits of a performance review?

1Helps engineers identify strengths and weaknesses 

How will an engineer ever know how to improve if they aren’t given any meaningful feedback? Whether you enjoy giving feedback during performance during this season or not, it’s impossible to not see the value of feedback! They are vital to help software engineers realize their weaknesses and improve their work. When done correctly, performance reviews should leave each software engineer on your team with an understanding of what they’ve done well recently, and with a list of technical and soft skills to develop and improve.

Level Up Your Software Engineer Performance Review

A performance review meeting requires preparation and collaborative talking points. Use a tool like Fellow so everyone can contribute to the conversation and show up prepared!

2Makes it easier to address mistakes

Regular performance reviews also make it easy to address small work issues and clear up misunderstandings. These evaluations are an opportunity to chat about concerns in a safe and judgment-free environment. You can use the time to discuss anything that has gone wrong since the last evaluation and work on an improvement plan. When employees feel heard and understood, they will be motivated to continue working hard and be a strong member of the team. 

3Provides opportunities for career growth conversations

You can use performance evaluations to chat about your subordinates’ professional development. Many employees wait until their formal review to discuss opportunities for growth and will come prepared with suggestions. Use this time to discuss responsibilities, raises, promotions, and mentorship. 

4Fosters trust between managers and team members

Performance reviews provide an opportunity for managers and their subordinates to build rapport. During this time, you, as a supervisor, can show your software engineers that you care about both their work and well-being. If you demonstrate to your teammates that they have autonomy and a reasonable degree of freedom, they’ll be motivated to drive results. Trust has a positive effect on performance! 

Tips for conducting effective software engineer performance reviews 

1Document each teammate’s accomplishments

Make a list of the engineers on your team and write down each of their accomplishments from the past quarter or year. Perhaps Mohammed successfully modified numerous company applications that increased user-friendliness by 15 percent. Or, maybe Jill was the only employee selected to represent the company at a recent regional tech event. List out each subordinate’s main results and larger work efforts. Aim to use numbers and include details where you can for additional context. Having these accomplishments documented will make it easier to give subordinates concrete examples of what they’ve done well during each review. 

2Set clear expectations before and during assessments 

Take a step back and ask yourself: Did I give my team of software engineers clear expectations for this review period? If the answer is no, do so in the future so your assessments are fair moving forward. If you did outline expectations early on, think about them as you prepare for each evaluation. You can use expectations you’ve previously set in writing as a guide for your assessments. You should also set expectations during each review. Once you deliver positive or constructive feedback, explain to each subordinate how you expect them to continue working on each skill and delegate action items that will help them get started. 

3Decide on the criteria 

One of the most important aspects of a performance review is the criteria that you will use to evaluate your software engineers. Traditional software engineer reviews focus on areas like code readability, projects and tasks completed, communication and leadership skills, teamwork, and responsibility. Additionally, you can consider other technical skills like coding ability. Establishing clear criteria will help you conduct each review fairly, because you’ll be evaluating all employees in the same areas. 

4Help your team members set goals

What’s the point of feedback if your team of engineers have no goals to work towards after their reviews? Based on the feedback you give, help each teammate set goals that are specific, measurable, and realistic. You can even help each member of your team set objectives and key results (OKRs) using our quarterly OKR goal-setting template if you have additional time to help them with their professional development.

5Be strategic about the type of performance review  

Think carefully about what type of performance reviews will work best for your team. If you have an employee who has been a pleasure to work with but you know that other teammates have concerns about the teammate’s work, perhaps it’s a good quarter to try 360-degree evaluations. Or maybe you did that last year and want to try self-appraisals this year to help each employee work on their own self-awareness. Better yet, get your team involved and ask them what they believe would be a beneficial approach this time around. When you complete performance reviews with the goal of helping your team members, rather than just checking a box, everyone wins!

6Provide examples

Don’t tell a software engineer that they need to strive for a higher level of performance if you can’t back up the claim. For example, if you want your employee to work on their communication skills, mention a mistake that could have been avoided had they asked for further clarification or expressed concern earlier. For each positive and constructive feedback point, aim to have two or more prepared examples. 

Software engineer performance review examples

It can be a struggle to come up with the right words to use during performance reviews. Here are a few examples of both positive and constructive feedback comments that you can include in your next performance review with a software engineer: 

  • Coding: “I’m impressed by your ability to iterate on code based on the feedback I and your teammates give you. My only suggestion for the future is that you review our team’s technical style guide, as I have noticed that your code is sometimes difficult to read or follow. In the future, please don’t hesitate to ask for more feedback. I’m happy to work with you on this!” 
  • Technical knowledge and skills: “You are the go-to expert on our team, and I appreciate how strategic you are when making decisions. One piece of constructive feedback I have for you is that you spent a lot of time this past quarter chasing technology fads. I think it’s great that you can keep up-to-date on industry trends, though, so let’s work together to come up with a plan to keep you on task but still able to bring your innovation to the table.”
  • Engineering management: “This year, I would love to see you participate in initiatives outside of your main area of responsibility. Your product knowledge and natural leadership skills will make you an asset in other areas of the company!”

Free performance review meeting agenda templates

Parting advice

Picture this: Your annual performance reviews are approaching, and for the first time ever, you’re feeling… prepared? Who would have thought that so much time and effort would have to go into giving employee feedback. While it’s been a busy few days, you’re looking forward to chatting with each of your engineers. You’re confident that your team members will be able to implement your meaningful feedback and grow from the experience. 

Managing a team is tough, but it’s always worth it. The next time you have to complete a performance review, look no further than our tips and examples. If you’re struggling, remember that continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. Now go help your team grow!

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