Considerations for engineering leaders creating an onboarding strategy

It can be daunting for new developers transitioning into a new engineering role as they deal with unfamiliar codebases and high expectations. It is important for engineering leadership to adopt effective onboarding strategies to ease this transition. A supportive and engaging onboarding experience boosts team cohesion and developer retention.

The first days in your new engineering position can be challenging. Your computer setup isn’t quite right, the codebase looks like an ancient cryptic manuscript, and you’re pretty sure you’ve forgotten how to code in the time it took to sign your employment contract. The path of a newcomer into a seasoned engineer is a rite of passage that must be observed with patience, perseverance, and a proactive mindset. This is the period when engineering leadership plays a crucial role in this transition. To reap the maximum benefits out of the onboarding phase, engineering leaders must devise an effective onboarding strategy.  

What is an onboarding strategy?

An onboarding strategy is a structured plan designed to integrate new engineers and developers into the organization. In simpler terms, it is your company’s first impression on the new hires. Surveys reveal that well-executed onboarding plays a pivotal role in shaping a new hire’s journey within the company, and it can enhance dev productivity, engagement, and retention. A good onboarding strategy ensures that new hires become a single unit within the company culture. The primary objective of an onboarding strategy is to ensure that new dev team members grasp their specific roles within the development life cycle, comprehend the company’s tech culture, and clearly understand the performance expectations set for them. Engineering leaders are required to combine their efforts to meticulously design a strategy that equips new hires with the necessary technical knowledge, coding practices, tools, and supportive resources required to swiftly transition into productive contributors to the team’s objectives.

Five considerations for onboarding strategy

There are certain aspects that engineering leaders should take into account when devising an onboarding strategy that is both effective and efficient. The five considerations for engineering leaders for creating an onboarding strategy are as follows:

  1. Manage expectations 
  2. Address the first-week jitters 
  3. Implement a well-structured schedule 
  4. Conduct 1:1s with the reporting manager
  5. Encourage a code review culture

Manage expectations 

At the heart of an onboarding strategy is the need to clearly articulate the expectations surrounding the new hire’s role, including specific responsibilities, key projects they will work on, and the performance metrics by which they will be evaluated. For instance, a new developer might be expected to familiarize themselves with the company’s codebase within the first month and contribute to a small bug fix before gradually scaling up to more complex projects such as cloudless servers. A practical step in managing expectations could involve creating comprehensive onboarding guidelines so everyone on the team is on the same page. Furthermore, engineering leaders should also set clear expectations around team dynamics and company culture. For example, if collaborative coding and peer reviews are a staple in the team’s workflow, this should be communicated upfront. Similarly, if the team values a high degree of autonomy, new developers should be made aware that they are encouraged to take the initiative and make decisions within their scope of work. When expectations are managed beforehand, engineering leaders can ensure a smooth integration of new developers into the team.

Address the first-week jitters

The first week can be daunting for newcomers, filled with both excitement and nervousness as they navigate through the unknown landscape of a new company, so jitters are more than common. This is why it becomes vital for engineering leaders to ease this transition for their new hires. This means having a structured plan that goes beyond the generic welcome email. For instance, the company should organize a small welcome event for the new hires with the rest of the team to break the ice and foster early connections. A clear roadmap for the first week is also helpful, including guided tours of the office (this can include the all-important coffee machine!) and a dedicated session on the team’s current projects and tech stack. Engineering managers might also find it helpful to pair the new hire with a “buddy,” an existing team member who can serve as a go-to person for questions and guidance. Furthermore, it’s important to ensure that new engineers have a well-equipped workstation and access to all necessary software and tools from the get-go.

Implement a well-structured schedule

A proper structured schedule is pivotal for engineering leaders who aim to streamline the onboarding process for new development team members. A meticulously planned schedule starts with a thorough orientation on day one, covering the company’s mission and values, followed by an in-depth overview of the team’s current projects. This schedule should mark down details of every step of the newcomer’s journey to make sure no critical aspect is overlooked. This schedule should cover the following few weeks into the new hires’ journey, so there must be separate sections for each week. For example, a second week for a new developer could include shadowing a senior developer on a live project and then working on a small project on their own during their third week. Besides these formal sessions, engineering leaders should set up an informal meeting with the entire team, perhaps over a team lunch, to start weaving the social fabric of the team. Throughout this period, it’s essential to have structured check-ins, preferably at the end of each week, where the new hire can share their progress, discuss challenges, and provide feedback on their onboarding experience. These sessions are a golden opportunity for both the newcomer and the leaders to adjust and align expectations.

Conduct 1:1s with the reporting manager

Another important consideration for engineering leaders creating an onboarding strategy is to set consistent one-on-one meetings with the reporting manager. The initial conversation sets a supportive tone, emphasizing that the organization cares about their growth and well-being. For example, during the first meeting, a manager might focus on getting to know the new engineer personally and professionally, understanding their career aspirations, technical strengths, and areas they’re eager to develop. In subsequent meetings, a manager might review the engineer’s first coding task, offering constructive feedback on their approach and giving suggestions on how to effectively collaborate with cross-functional teams. These interactions also allow new hires to voice any concerns or challenges they’re facing, whether it’s feeling overwhelmed by the workload or needing clarity on project objectives.

Encourage a code review culture

A code review culture champions not only the maintenance of high-quality code but also fosters a supportive environment conducive to learning and growth. For instance, as part of the onboarding process, new engineers might be paired with seasoned mentors for code review sessions. These sessions could focus on dissecting a recent piece of complex code, with the mentor explaining the thought process behind its structure, the choice of algorithms, and adherence to the team’s coding conventions. Engineering leaders can organize workshops or discussions centered around best practices in code review. Moreover, publicly celebrating successful code reviews within the team can further enhance this culture, as this recognizes the individual’s contribution.

Final word

When engineering leaders implement these abovementioned considerations in the onboarding strategy, they create a more inclusive, efficient, and supportive environment for new hires. This holistic approach facilitates a smoother transition for engineers joining the team and also significantly enhances team cohesion.

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