How to Onboard Engineers as a Hiring Manager

@samueljabiodun · April 9, 2022

While every organization has its own way of onboarding engineers, there are few elements that will make any engineering onboarding effective. In this post, I share thoughts I have adopted that govern how I onboard engineers into my teams.

Engineering onboarding entails communicating your company’s expectations, such as technical, process, product, cultural, and professional, to new hires in a way that makes the knowledge useful and practical.

The time it takes for a new engineer to be a productive member of a team is a function of how effective your onboarding process is.

I do realize there is a lot that goes into onboarding a new engineer. Usually, there are roles played by Procurement, HR team, and more. Usually, an HR onboarding will contain training programs designed to help new hires get acquainted with a company and its culture. The HR onboarding is usually generalized and may not include engineering onboarding. As a result, the focus of this post will be onboarding from the standpoint of a hiring manager.

Start from the hiring manager’s interview.

Engineering onboarding starts from the hiring manager’s interview. This is the first opportunity to help a candidate see her potential impact on the job. Don’t only assess the candidate’s fit during the hiring manager interview but also help the candidate connect to your team’s mission and purpose.

You’re doing onboarding work if you’re able to help a candidate understand what the role is about and how she can possibly fit in. The hiring manager’s interview can serve as an onboarding foundation that will be built on later if the candidate makes it to an offer stage.

Use the candidate’s notice period to your advantage

Candidates drop out at every stage of the hiring funnel. For a very strong talent, dropping out after signing an offer is a possibility. Some candidates have long notice periods. It’s important to keep the communication going.

You should leverage the notice period to continue to build on the candidate’s excitement about your company, your team, and how you work. My strategies include reaching out to them a week after an offer is signed to share our excitement in a mail.

As the notice period draws to a close, I reach out to see if they need any assistance and make use of the opportunity to send our onboarding guide to the candidate to prepare her ahead.

Have a comprehensive written down onboarding guide

One of the few elements of engineering onboarding that I found to be important when onboarding engineers is having a written down onboarding guide. PowerPoint presentations should not replace a written down employee onboarding guide that new hires can refer to from time to time. Nothing scales better than words written down because it’s always available when people aren’t.

Your onboarding guide should help candidates answer the following questions:

  • What’s the team’s culture like?

  • What is the company culture like?

  • How does the team function or work?

  • What are the tools used?

  • How should access to tools be requested?

  • Who are the people to meet?

  • What are the company, product, and tech strategies?

  • What are the engineering principles?

  • Where to find documentation?

  • What is the current team roadmap?

  • Faqs and more.

Don’t leave engineers to figure out the tech part.

I had the opportunity to work with six different companies on three continents in the last ten years. Each of these companies has its own unique way of shipping software. They don’t all use the same techniques or approaches to software development.

Regardless of how experienced a new hire is, they should be onboarded into how you build software.

The “She is an engineer, and she will figure it out” will not work.

She needs to get familiar with your workflows and processes, and practices. She needs to know how things get shipped, what metrics are important, e.t.c.

On average, it’s estimated that it takes 3-5 months for a new engineer to be productive. A well-designed tech onboarding will ramp up new hires to a point where they become a productive member of the team.

The times it takes a new hire to be productive is a measure of how well your onboarding is.

An effective onboarding for engineers should not ignore tech. So, ensure your tech onboarding helps new hires understand:

  • How software gets shipped

  • What are the technical expectations from the role

  • What are the non-technical expectations

  • What is the release process like

  • How to set up development environments

  • What tooling is used

  • Your code review process

  • Your reliability metrics

  • Incident management

  • Existing and adopted ADR decisions

  • What is the current state of your tech landscape, and what is the expected state?

Set onboarding and role expectations.

Without clear expectations, it’s impossible to drive accountability. Setting clear onboarding expectations helps new hires take responsibility for their own onboarding. It gives them a north star of where they’re headed.

When I onboard engineers, I break down onboarding expectations into 6 categories. Each category has a list of expectations that are required during onboarding.

  • What is expected during the first week of onboarding

  • What is expected from 2- 3 weeks of joining the team

  • What is expected by the end of month 1

  • What is expected by the end of month 3

  • What is expected by month 6 and beyond

Conduct regular check-ins

When I joined Architrave, I relocated from Nigeria to Germany. Fortunately, I had an amazing people team and a fantastic manager who conducted a series of check-ins with me during my first few months.

The check-ins helped me receive early feedback and helped me navigate the change. The check-ins left a positive impression on me even after leaving the company. My onboarding period at Architrave made me realize the importance of frequent check-ins with new hires.

New hires may find it difficult to ask for support and may struggle silently. This makes it harder for managers to catch up and intervene quickly to get them back on track. By having regular check-ins with new hires, you’re creating an opportunity to ask crucial questions about how their onboarding is going. And how you could provide the support they need.

I follow structured check-ins with new hires as follows:

  1. Check-in after 2 weeks of joining

  2. Check-in after 30 days

  3. Check-in after 60 days

  4. Check-in after 90 days

Before going for onboarding check-ins with new hires, it’s important to have some feedback ready.

  • Is the engineer doing the work you hired her to do?

  • What is the new engineer doing well, and what can she change to make working with them easier?

  • How confident are you that the engineer is going to be a top performer six months from now?

The importance of feedback cannot be overestimated and it is well captured in this post.

New hires will need frequent feedback to feel safe in their onboarding and understand if they are doing things right. This is both important for their self-confidence, lowers their stress levels, and makes sure they are indeed in the right direction.

Assign an onboarding buddy

Assigning an onboarding buddy to a new hire is a good way to provide an informal support system for the new hire.

It’s impossible to cover all new hires’ questions in the onboarding handbook or presentations.

When you assign an onboarding buddy, it allows the new hires to build a fast rapid connection with a co-engineer. And help the new hire get fast support for things not covered in the employee handbook.

Finally, obtain feedback and continuously use the feedback to improve your onboarding process.

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