How to Successfully Onboard a New Developer
When bringing on a new developer, the last thing you want to do is leave them locked in a room trying to figure out how all the different parts of your codebase work together. Instead, you want to get them up and running as quickly as possible so they can begin making meaningful contributions.
Onboarding should be an easy and enjoyable experience for your new hire, not a frustrating ordeal.
What does a good onboarding process look like?
A good onboarding process should be easy for both parties to navigate—the new developer and their team. It should give the developer a good idea of the team’s functions and workflows, as well as the codebase they work in. It’s a designed experience to get them to their first few projects quickly and efficiently.
A good onboarding process should also be consistent. Ideally, each developer should have a similar experience when working their way through. If not, you run the risk of setting some developers up for failure by missing critical topics and learning opportunities.
Many teams also assign a mentor or buddy to the developer for their first few weeks. This provides a point of contact for them to ask questions and assigns responsibility for guiding them through the process.
Start with access
The most important thing to do on day one is to make sure your new developer has access to all of the equipment, systems, and tools they may need. They need to be able to learn and collaborate freely without getting caught up waiting for accounts or software licenses.
The first few weeks can be a very exciting and stressful time for new developers, so it's important to set expectations. Let them know that they don’t need to understand everything right away. Instead, they should first focus on getting a solid grasp of the most important parts of the system. As time goes on and they become more familiar with how things work, they can dive in and begin to contribute at their own pace.
Walk through the codebase
When you introduce your new developer to the codebase, do so by mapping out the most important parts of the system first. Let them know why things are structured the way they are. You want to go over any conventions or best practices as well as any patterns used throughout the code.
You should take this opportunity to also let them know about any deficiencies in the code or its architecture. In general, you want to be transparent about where you're at—not keep it a secret. They need to trust you and feel comfortable asking questions down the road.
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Share your team's workflow
Once you’ve explained the code and its associated conventions, be transparent about your team’s workflow as well. Let them know how you typically approach projects, how you break things down, and what your team’s expectations are.
You want to make sure they understand how their contributions will be prioritized and what path they’ll take from idea to deployment. Avoid any potential bottlenecks by letting them know who they should go to with certain questions or problems.
Get started with ongoing projects
When possible, try to incorporate new developers into an ongoing project for their first contributions. It will not only give them something to work on immediately, but also give them a chance to see how your team operates in the wild.
Be careful not to silo them with unimportant or poorly-scoped tasks. Working with the team on something important will make sure their contributions are impactful and evaluable.
The key is to make the process as smooth and enjoyable for your new developer as possible. Make sure they feel like an important part of the team from day one. Don't expect major contributions in the first few weeks, and work with them to set goals and expectations as they learn.