Poornima Vijayashanker

Why You Need to Invest in Onboarding a New Software Engineer and Not Expect Them to Ship Code on Their First Day


Have you recently hired a software engineer or maybe a few? Congratulations! Are you starting to worry that they haven’t shipped any code yet? Maybe they’re a bad hire…

Seems kinda harsh to think someone is a bad hire if they haven’t shipped code in their first day or week, especially if they haven’t been ramped up on the code base.

But who has time to train a new hire?!

Unfortunately, the lack of onboarding new hires, and the tendency to see see it as unnecessary, is becoming a pervasive issue. Instead, teams and companies fault the new hire by thinking the new hire just isn’t self-sufficient if they need to be onboarded.

But how could someone (even a very seasoned software engineer) possibly review hundreds, thousands, or possibly millions of lines of code on their own? And be expected to know the nuances and decisions that went into writing all of it? Not to mention those notorious monkey patches that lead to bugs that only veterans on the team are aware of!

In today’s Build Tip, we’re going to explore why onboarding new software engineers on your team is important, and provide you with some techniques for doing it.

To help us out, I’ve invited Chris Jobst, who is a senior software engineer at Pivotal Labs.

Here’s what you’ll learn as you watch the episode:

  • how to design a first-day experience for your new hire;
  • why making setup a cinch is a good thing and doesn’t mean you are spoonfeeding your new hire;
  • what to expect in terms of results from your new hire at the end of the first day and the first week; and
  • the benefits your team and company will experience when you invest in onboarding new hires.

Wondering what to do if you have more than one hire? Well, stay tuned, because in next week’s Build Tip, we’re going to share some best practices for ramping up more than one new hire at a time!

Listen to the episode on iTunes!

Why You Need to Invest in Onboarding a New Software Engineer and Not Expect Them to Ship Code on Their First Day Transcript (Raw)

Poornima Vijayashanker: Hey Ronan, congratulations.

Ronan Dunlop: Oh yeah, we just hired five engineers.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, that’s awesome. Are you going to start onboarding them soon?

Ronan Dunlop: Onboard them?

Poornima Vijayashanker: You know, walk them through the architecture, maybe do some peer programming.

Ronan Dunlop: I don’t have time for that. That’s why I hired five engineers.

Poornima Vijayashanker: So you’re just going to let them sink or swim?

Ronan Dunlop: How else does one know if they’re good or not?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh boy. I think we’re going to need to cover the importance of onboarding in today’s Build Tip.

Why onboard your new software engineers

Welcome to Build brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I’m your host Poornima Vijayashanker and I’ve got a new Build Tip for you.

While hiring engineers is half the battle, the other half is ramping them up quickly. Today, I’m joined by Chris Jobst, who is a senior software engineer at Pivotal Labs. Thanks for joining us today Chris.

Chris Jobst: Thank you so much for having me Poornima.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. So Chris, a lot of people would say if you hire an engineer and they’re not productive on the first day shipping code, they were probably a bad hire. What do you think?

Chris Jobst: Unfortunately, that’s a really common misconception.

Software engineer onboarding checklist for managers

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, what should a typical first day look like?

Chris Jobst: Well my first tip would be to have them meet the team and really make them feel part of that team.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Then what’s the next thing you should do?

Chris Jobst: Well start off by talking about the product.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Chris Jobst: What are they building? Who are they building it for?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. After that what would you do?

Chris Jobst: Well then maybe dive into the code a bit. Talk about the architecture.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice and what should you do as your talking about the architecture, because some people could have really big code bases?

Chris Jobst: Absolutely. I like to start at a really high level and then dive down bit by bit.

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK.

Chris Jobst: You don’t want to overwhelm them on the first day.

How to train software engineers

Poornima Vijayashanker: It’s great that you mention architecture review. Again, some contrarians might think, “Well they should just set themselves up and dive into the code base. Don’t make it too easy, we want them to sink or swim.” What do you think?

Chris Jobst: I think the easier that it could be to set them up, the better they’re going to be set up for success at the company.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, why do you think we should make set up a cinch?

Chris Jobst: Well if you really do want to get them involved in the product and the code, then make it easy for them to do that.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, so getting them ramped up and being able to download the code. Not have to install a whole bunch of jazz and this and that.

Chris Jobst: Have a setup script.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Chris Jobst: We have a few different ways of doing that for the computers that we use and it makes it so much easier.

Examples of onboarding newly hired software engineers

Poornima Vijayashanker: What’s an example that you guys use?

Chris Jobst: We’ll start with a base image and then we just have a workstation script that literally just installs a bunch of software.

Poornima Vijayashanker: What are the expectations for the new hire at the end of the first day? I know you mentioned they should meet the team, we should do an architecture review and make set-up a cinch, but what can somebody expect at the end?

Chris Jobst: I think that it’s really important that they feel part of the team, but also that they feel connected to the user base and have empathy for the user.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, so getting a sense of who the user is and walking them through some use cases. Sharing some new testimonials.

Chris Jobst: Absolutely.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Usually it’s an engineering lead driving the process like Ronan Dunlop, so I’m assuming they should maybe do some check-ins, either during that first day or during that first week? What’s the benefit of doing a check-in?

Benefit to onboarding newly hired software engineer

Chris Jobst: Absolutely. You want to make them feel part of the team and when they feel part of the team, they’re going to stay at the company longer.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, that’s a clear benefit to having a good onboarding process.

Chris Jobst: Definitely.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Well thank you so much Chris, these tips have been very helpful and I know they’re going to help our audience as they onboard their new hires.

Chris Jobst: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Sure. That’s it for today’s episode of Build. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive more Build tips like today’s and thanks to our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker, for their help in producing this episode. Ciao for now.

This episode of Build is brought to you by our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.

Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.