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Elanor
Elanor

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Onboarding New Developers (a series)

Congratulations! You’ve hired a new employee! But what now? Maybe your company has a regimented onboarding process for new employees already. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, introducing and integrating them into your team will be a unique, but important process.

I recently hired and needed to onboard a new developer and, as a new manager myself, did not have a lot of resources to start with. The last thing I wanted was my new employee to arrive and feel overwhelmed or lost during their first few days and weeks. Getting your new employee familiar with procedures, software, and the way your team works at a comfortable pace will go a long way to make them a productive member of the team!

As I was researching this question: “How do you onboard a new developer?” I came across a lot of different approaches. I took many of the recommendations and combined them with my own desires, if I were that new employee. I was constantly asking myself, “How would I want to be introduced and welcomed to a team?” As you are reading these ideas, make sure that you’re thinking about how you can personalize this process; each team and each employee will be different.

Let’s get started!

What are your goals for your new hire?

The entire onboarding process depends on your goal for the employee as a member of your team. This should also be informed by their role within the team. If they are a junior member, you wouldn’t expect them to be a subject-matter expert or leading project initiatives at the end of their first 90 days. If they’re being hired into a more senior position, however, you should expect them to be comfortable with small leadership tasks at the end of your onboarding process.

Before you can begin onboarding, or even developing an onboarding plan, you need to consider why this person was hired in the first place. How can they become a contributing member of your team? What tools will they need to be successful? And how can you help?

What resources are already available to you?

Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Make sure to fully utilize any resources that your company provides to new hires and gather links to these items in a central location so they are easy for your new hire to access.
Our company has a well-defined goal setting process which it uses to evaluate employee performance at the end of each calendar year. Each employee’s annual goals are linked with our company’s Core Values, so many of the goals of onboarding the new employee were linked with these core values as well.

Existing Onboarding Process

More than likely, your company has some sort of dedicated on-boarding process. In the case of my company, the new employee is shipped equipment, granted access to systems and servers, and has accounts created in various benefits and HR management systems. However, there was no concrete onboarding process for our development team. (That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this article; to help managers like you figure out what you might need to be successful!)

Intranet

Your company most likely has some sort of repository of internal documents, such as benefits information, employee handbooks, etc. Wherever this may be located, make sure you go over it with your employee so they understand how to access these documents and what is included. Your HR department may go over this, but it can’t hurt to reiterate the importance of reviewing all the important “corporate” stuff.

Code Documentation (internal & external)

Hopefully your team maintains some code documentation so that the new employee does not have to rely on face-to-face conversations with other employees. If they do, make sure that your employee has time to read through all of this information and is shown how to access it.
If you don’t have this kind of documentation for your systems and software, you will most likely need to schedule time to walk them through the basics of how the systems operate. This might involve scheduling time with other team members who know more about specific components and can perform adequate walkthroughs.

Even with technical documentation in writing, ask your new employee how they learn best. It’s possible that they will learn more effectively with a walkthrough than by reading documentation.

Team Experts and Mentorship

The most important part of onboarding is integrating the new employee into your team! And a great way to get them integrated is to have your team experts on different parts of your systems mentor the new employee as they are working through tasks that deal with those parts. If you do not have “team experts” or have a few people who may fit the bill, try to identify at least one person who knows the most about a specific facet of your system or software. Have a diverse set of work ready for your new employee to work through, and as they get to each new area, they can pair up with the team expert to learn from their expertise.

Setting up 1:1s with your new employee

This is actually one of the first steps to a successful onboarding process, in my opinion. You, as the manager, need to be available to your new hire to answer questions and guide them along the process as they get used to the way your team and your company do things. One of the very first tasks you should do when your employee gets access to their calendar is to set up regular meetings with them on an ongoing basis.

Initially, the 1:1s need to be much more frequent then your normal meeting cadence with your existing team members. For instance, I meet with my team members on a bi-weekly basis. With my new hire, I met with them weekly for the first month and then checked in to see how they felt about moving to the bi-weekly schedule at that point. I was also available for ad-hoc meetings, calls, and slack chats whenever I could be, since I fully expected them to have lots of questions in the first weeks they were with us.

If you, as the manager, don’t have that kind of availability, try to have a senior member of your team act as a mentor and onboarding guide. (Even if you do have wide availability, having a team mentor is still a good idea). It’s crucial that your new hire isn’t left waiting with questions while they are getting acclimated; they might forget what they wanted to ask and miss out on critical details or make a silly mistake that will take more time to fix down the road. Better that they can address their problems and questions immediately then having to wait.

Next Steps

The next step is to take all of this information that you have gathered and make a plan of action for your employees first days and weeks. You don't want your new employee to be overwhelmed with tasks, but you also don't want them sitting at their desk twiddling their thumbs.

In the next few posts in this series, I will go over a 7-day, 30-day, and 90-day plan to get your employee integrated into your team and become a productive developer at your company!

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