A Guide to Performance Reviews for Software Developers

Performance review – some of us like doing them, some of us don’t. It’s a part of our working lives.

But how do you write a good performance review? Read on to find out.

Usually every year, our company needs us to write or deliver a review of what we have done over the last year. It’s used to make you realise what you have achieved and what your goals are, and it’s also used by the managers to decide whether or not you deserve a pay rise.

How do you convince your managers you’re ready for that promotion or that pay raise? It’s all about focusing on the positive – for both you and your employer. Read the tips I’ve shared below on what to write in a performance review to get a great result.


Focus On The Entire Year

Most of the time, people don’t start writing their performance review until it’s almost due. This means that there’s a high tendency to focus on what’s happened recently, even though it’s a six monthly or yearly timeframe. You should be including everything that’s happened since your last review.

A year is a long time, I hear you ask. Yes, it is, which is why I encourage keeping a log of everything you do that may have an impact on your review at the end of the period.

Did you receive good feedback from a manager? Write it down – date, details, what you did.

Did you put in extra time for a project to meet a deadline? Write it down.

Did you perform any extra-curricular activities during the year? Write this down too.

It doesn’t really matter where you write it down – an Outlook task, a Word document, a note on your phone – as long as it’s kept and accessible when you need it. I personally love using Evernote for this, and for many other tasks.

If they’re written down, all you need to do when you’re thinking of what to write in a performance review is open up this log and refer to it as you write. It will make things a lot easier.

Ask What Level of Detail is Needed

It’s a good idea to ask what level of detail is needed when writing year-end accomplishments. Ask your manager this, or ask whoever is requesting the accomplishments.

Do they want a short, bullet-point list of the projects that were delivered? Do they want a paragraph on each major accomplishment? Or do they want something in between?

Asking will ensure you give the right amount of detail and save time for both you and your manager. Writing more than what is needed wastes time for both of you, and if you don’t write enough, they will come back and ask for more information.


Include Both Qualitative and Quantitative Information

It’s easy to include the quantitative things (things that can be described with numbers) that you’ve done throughout the year when you need to write a performance review. Some areas of quantitative achievements are:

These areas are all quantitative, easily measurable and able to be compared. These kinds of things are good to include in your performance review, but you should also include qualitative achievements.

Qualitative achievements are things that are not purely based on numbers. They’re subjective and are based on people’s opinions or ideas. They can also be based on your goals from the previous year, and could include things like:

  • Personal development qualities (e.g. leadership, knowledge on a specific topic)
  • Personal or team relationships
  • Progression in a certain career path

It’s a good idea to include these kinds of achievements as well, as they also have an impact in getting a good review. If you work in a certain industry, such as finance, and believe your knowledge of the finance industry has greatly increased and your job has improved because of it, write this in your review. These kinds of things are important to your employer.

If you’re not sure on what to include as a quantitative or numbers-based item, think about your job and what it does to make your company money or save your company money.


Focus on Benefits to the Company

When writing year-end accomplishments, I’ve found it’s helpful to focus on how you have helped the company. This is similar to the way you write a resume – focus on what you’ve done, what results you achieved, and what benefits you provided to the company.

This approach can help you come up with the accomplishments you may not have considered. It can also help you word the accomplishments you have mentioned, in a way that shows the company in a good way.

Rather than just saying certain projects were completed, you can include statements about benefits to the company, such as automation of manual processes or customer satisfaction.


How Did You Make Your Manager Look Good?

Another important area to consider when writing year-end accomplishments is, “how have you made your manager look good?” This is something that all team members should consider.

Your manager will appreciate it if you make them look good, both in the work you do every day, and the accomplishments you highlight. It’s also a good way to be a better team player.

Don’t be blatant about it, by saying “Helped Mr Jones become a better manager by doing X and delivering Y”. Use this concept to think of accomplishments and how to word them. If your manager looks good, then they will be happy, and your team will look good as a result.


What Did You Contribute as a Team?

Thinking of your team as a whole can be another good concept when writing year-end accomplishments. As a team, what have you done this year that has been a highlight or that has stood out? Also, what have you done to help your team out?

Perhaps you came up with a better way for your team to do something internally, whether it is easier or faster.

Maybe you helped review code for other team members or mentored new employees or organised team events.

Accomplishments like this should be mentioned. If your manager wants to remove them, they can, but it’s good to think of the wider team and add them in.


Improvements From Last Year’s Review

In most cases, if this isn’t your first review, your performance review from the previous year will contain things you would like to focus on for the upcoming year. These are great areas to refer to when thinking of what to write in your performance review.

If you look at your goals from the previous year, write a little on how you have achieved them. If you haven’t achieved them, write on how much you have achieved and how you plan on achieving them in the upcoming year. As mentioned at the top of this post, focus on the positive.

You can also refer to comments made by your manager or human resources member, or whoever gave you feedback last time. If they have suggested areas for improvement (which they usually will), then you can write a little on these and how you may have improved or achieved them.

By doing this, you’re basically saying that you’ve met the requests that your company has asked for over the last year, which is a great way to get a good review.


Set Goals As Part Of What To Write In A Performance Review

Another part of what to write in a performance review to get a great result is to set some goals for the upcoming year. Companies like employees who have direction and focus on their future, and who like to improve themselves.

Think about what you want to achieve in the future, both in the short term and the long term. I have written a post on why you should set career goals which could be helpful. Some goals you could set are:

  • Efficiency goals – ways you can improve the efficiency of the way you or other people do their job
  • Personal development qualities – improving your communication, leadership or other skills
  • Technical improvements – ways to improve your software development, analysis, testing, or any other area that your job involves

I found the inspiration for this post as I was filling out my own performance review. My review with my current employer happens every June, and the process starts in April. I need to come up with some goals for my review for the upcoming year, and I thought, what do I put down?

After filling out my own review form and sending it to HR, I thought, how could my readers benefit from this experience? So I decided to write this article to help you come up with some goals for your review.

Why Do You Need Goals To Put On Your Performance Review?

The first thing many of you (myself included) may be thinking about is, “why do you even need to put goals on your performance review?”

It’s a valid question.

Shouldn’t performance reviews be just that, a review of your performance? That would make sense! However, the performance review is just a common term for this process.

The aim of this review process is to discuss how you have been performing for the previous period, and then to make plans for your job and career for the next period (once again, usually a year). The “plans” part is where the goals come in.

Setting goals for a performance review is good so you know what to focus on for the next year, whether it’s improvements in your current role or advancing to something else.

The goals in a performance review are usually revisited on your next review as well. So, for example, during review #1, any goals you set there would be checked again during review #2 to see if you have met them. Setting good goals will help you get a good result on your performance review.

Alright, with that said, let’s have a look at some goals to put on your performance review.

Improve Skills That You’re Not Strong In

One of the most common goals I’ve put down in the past is around improving skills that I’m not strong in. I think it’s a good goal to have. We should all be trying to improve as we progress through our careers, and to do this, we improve the skills that we’re not good at.

Some of the skills I put down as goals were around verbal communication, effective emails, and Microsoft SQL. It made me focus on improving those as the year went on.

What skills can you think of that you’re not strong in? Of course, you have your major skills, the ones that got you hired for your current role (Java development, testing, project management, SQL), but what other skills do you think are essential to know but you don’t feel comfortable with?

A goal to put on your performance review around these skills could be:

  • Improve my Microsoft Word skills so that I can effectively create documentation to help with my role
  • Improve my presentation skills so I can feel more comfortable when presenting topics to a small group of people
  • Improve my skills and knowledge of server-side scripting so that I can do my job faster and easier

Get A Certification

A great goal to put on your performance review is to get a certification.

The IT industry has many certifications that are available. While a lot of them aren’t software career-focused (they are focused towards networking, servers, hardware, security), you still have quite a range of certifications you can get.

Setting a goal for your review to get a certification is a great goal because it’s measurable, it gives you the knowledge to improve your career, and it serves as a standard for your industry. For example, if you have the ITIL v3 Foundation certification, the industry knows what that means and what is involved (ITIL is one of the many acronyms in the software world).

What certifications are available for your current role? Do a Google search for some that are related. Many areas of the software industry have certifications – there are some for testers, business analysts, developers, database programmers, and all kinds of roles.

Some examples of certification goals to put on your performance review would be:

  • Obtain my Oracle Database Administrator Certified Associate certification
  • Study for and book in my exam for the ISTQB Foundation exam
  • Meet the minimum requirements for the Project Management Professional certification

Be More Active In The Company

Companies like to have employees that are involved and contribute back to the company. It helps to improve the culture and employee engagement and makes employees happier overall.

This can be hard for employers to improve though, as you can’t really force employees to be more involved. For this reason, employers like it when you are more active in the company.

Setting a goal to be more active in the company, either specifically or generally, is a good goal to put on your performance review. Some examples of some areas you could be more active in your company include:

  • Company sporting team
  • Organising social events (drinks, movie sessions, lunches)
  • Charities and fund raising
  • Birthdays, Christmas events, or other themed events

What ways could you contribute more to your company? They don’t have to be from the list above, but it’s a start. Adding a goal relating to contribution to the company is helpful for your review – as long as you plan to follow it up.

Performance Review Goals for Database Developers

If you’re a database developer, you will have goals that are specific to the work you do.

You won’t have goals for sales targets to testing certifications.

You’ll have goals such as database certifications, features deployed to production, and code quality.

So, some examples of topics for goals for a database developer that you could put on your performance review are:

  • I will find X opportunities for improving the efficiency of my current process
  • I will dedicate X hours per week to training other members of the team
  • I will only call necessary meetings, and will have agendas prepared for all attendees prior to the meeting
  • Obtain the X certification (e.g. Oracle Certified Associate)
  • Write an article for a website
  • Learn something new and present it to the team during a lunch break
  • Fix X defects in the existing system
  • Ship X features to production
  • Learn the X product/technology to a level I can use at work/a level I understand it well enough so I can teach to others and give a presentation to the team on it



So, in summary, if you want to know what to write in a performance review to get a great result, you should focus on the entire year, include both qualitative and quantitative items, include achievements from the previous review, and set some goals. Put this together with the great job that I’m sure you’re already doing, and you’ll greatly improve your chances of that promotion or pay raise!

Do you have any other tips for writing a great performance review? Share them in the comments section below!

Image: Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 thoughts on “A Guide to Performance Reviews for Software Developers”

  1. This is such crap, like who the hell wants to write a review about themselves. So friggin stupid and whoever came up with employees having to do this well lets just say I’d like some alone time with them.

    1. Fair point, Keith. I think the idea is to make you realise where your strengths and weaknesses are by yourself, as it helps you figure out where you can improve.

    2. keith believe it or not. Managers do ask you to write about yourself to get you a pay rise. I have to do it more my current job and tips in this article are very helpful.

    3. Exactly! This is BS! I get a $0.25 pay raise, just like every other employee, no matter what I say, in this asinine review. All I want is to cheat and copy someone else’s sh*t and get this over with. I have worked with this company 3 years and put in the least on these reviews and always the same outcome. Same as every other employee. I have advanced within the company as well, as I am very good at what I do, as well as being extremely good with our clients. Bottom line…Mid-year, year-end…self reviews are a f’n waste of time and a pain in my a$$. Where can I find someone else’s comment’s from their year-end review, so I can plagiarize? =D All help greatly appreciated! Thank you! Brei

    4. If you have a job in development you most certainly will have to do some type of performance review. I am a software developer 1. This really really helped guiding me on how to write a great performance review. Thank you for taking the time to write this article.

  2. It is such a beneficial piece of info, I’ve been writing performance reviews for the past 10 years and the tips here are exactly what make the review rich and professional. Keith, all good companies have a template to be filled annually or bi annually, and it also includes the manager’s comments where you can keep it for your reference.
    Outstanding and comprehensive guide. Thanks

    1. Hi Douha,
      Thanks, glad you appreciated the article. I’ve filled out a few in the past and they can really help you get what you want out of your review process.


  3. Ben: THANK YOU.
    your are an Excellent hard working professional. Your perfect work and dedication is amazing. Your are a great Database Teacher. I want to learn from your Guides
    Best regards,

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