A woman shaking hands with a man and smiling. They are starting a very positive onboarding process.
Image: © Djordje Radosevic/Stock.adobe.com

7 top onboarding tips when hiring a new engineer

10 Jan 2019

The onboarding process is important when hiring and retaining talent. Here, New Relic engineer Rachel Klein gives her top tips based on her own onboarding experience.

It’s not that I expected my first few months at New Relic to go badly, exactly. I knew I was going to be doing work I enjoyed within a fantastic culture – that’s why I applied. And I knew I was joining a team of highly skilled, friendly and all-round fantastic people – that’s what I found out during my interviews. But, nonetheless, I expected the first few months to be very hard.

I’m only a few years into my career as an engineer. I don’t have a degree in anything technical, and I’m female. Not surprisingly, I am very familiar with imposter syndrome. From the first moment I sat down at a keyboard, typed some code and ran it, whenever I tried something new I fought against a persistent and sneaking feeling that I can’t possibly do this.

It’s a fight I’ve always won, because here I am today. But I know from experience how exhausting it is to have to convince yourself that you can do something on top of the work of actually doing it.

I was prepared to fight this familiar fight as I started at New Relic. And then, to my surprise, I mostly didn’t have to.

Not having to start each day with a psychological battle kicked off a virtuous cycle. I used my extra mental energy to learn and accomplish more, which cemented the feeling of ‘I can do this’. I started contributing to customer-facing work and new features sooner than expected.

I joined the Support Hero rotation (people who are available to help technical support with tricky tickets) sooner than expected. I did a live demo in a business meeting. I helped make an internal tool, then wrote an internal blogpost about it (for the whole company to see). I’m blown away by the amount of new concepts and experiences I’ve been able to embrace in the last few months.

When I marvelled to co-workers about this, some of them said: “Well, you’re lucky, you have an amazing team!”

I can’t disagree; my teammates are amazing and I feel incredibly lucky to work with them. But who they are has not been the biggest factor in my great onboarding experience. The biggest factor has been what they did to set me up for success, practices any team could adopt.

That’s why I would like to share with you some specific things that have contributed to my fantastic first few months at New Relic, in the hope that you’ll remember them next time you welcome an early-career engineer.

1. A warm welcome

Team lunch is a first-day tradition for many teams at New Relic. Mine was postponed, but I still had someone invite me to lunch with them, which really helped me feel at home. Some teams present newbies with cards signed by everyone. However it’s expressed, hearing the sentiment ‘We’re excited to have you!’ means a lot.

2. A 90-day plan

Not only was it helpful to know from the start when my team hoped I would hit certain milestones, but having a 90-day plan helped me stay productive and proactive. When I felt stuck on a task, I had a list of alternatives – everything from must-read documentation to suggested connections on other teams.

3. A list of starter tasks

My team curated a list of Jira tickets for me to tackle in my first week, largely minor bug fixes. This helped get me comfortable with the codebase and our workflow early on.

4. Enthusiastic knowledge-sharing

My teammates have supported me by encouraging questions and embracing their role as teachers. There’s a world of difference between: ‘What do you mean you don’t know about x?’ and ‘Oh, you haven’t had the chance to work with x? That means I get to show you how!’

5. A thoughtful approach to pairing

When we coded together, my teammates actively made time for me to drive, knowing I would learn better by doing than by watching. When they needed to go fast to get something done on time, they debriefed with me afterwards to cement my understanding.

6. Involvement in planning

Around the time I joined, my team started the practice of writing Jira tickets for each MMF (minimum marketable feature) together, which has been a positive experience for all of us. From my perspective, it’s helpful to participate in high-level discussion about each project so that, even if I’m not directly involved, I understand what decisions went into it.

7. Celebrating successes

From high-fiving me when I finally figured out a tricky problem, to making sure my name appeared on shared work, to expressing appreciation for my efforts in our team meetings, my teammates have sought out opportunities to highlight my accomplishments, which makes me want to contribute more.

These are things that have personally helped me. I imagine there is much more other teams and individuals could add to the conversation. But, as your own company hires engineers who might be early in their careers or those who haven’t taken a traditional career path, I hope you’ll think about ways you can help make their first few months as surprisingly excellent as mine were.

By Rachel Klein

Rachel Klein is a software engineer at New Relic.

A version of this article is available on New Relic’s blog.

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