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How to onboard yourself onto a new project

Originally published at on ・1 min read

In a well-managed software environment, you’ll have a mentor to help you get up to speed with a new project. But that doesn’t always happen. So here’s some tips I’ve picked up about how I onboard myself onto a new project.

Always ask questions.

That’s how to understand documents and code. If it seems like something obvious, ask a rubber duck first, but on my team, I always prefer the developers who ask for help when needed than the ones who struggle along in silence.

For big documents, always expect to send a clarifying follow-up. Write notes and questions as you go through. Some things will be answered, even if not in the order you expect, but reviewing the document shows you’re taking it seriously, and you’ve taken time to process it.

Rewrite it on your own terms

I’ll tend to write notes about the business domain, possibly a glossary, as well as key concepts that will inform how it needs to be built, such as the main user flows, any special rules around security or performance, or specific highlights that meet the project goals (i.e. the high-level view of what must the project have to be successful. Sometimes it helps me to draw diagrams for the flow, or for the connections between different parts of the system.

Ask more questions

For other questions, a good rule of thumb would be if you can’t figure it out yourself or via Google (or project docs) within 30-60 minutes, ask someone else.

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