James Russo

Engineering at Brex

Fullstack engineer who knows nothing about design.
Example: this website.

Bored Hacking

Onboarding is not a One Way Street

November 08, 2020 | 4 min read

Onboarding can be a very hectic and stressful time when you are starting a new job. New coworkers to meet, new codebases to learn, new languages to learn, new technologies, new processes, and the list can go on and on. Good onboarding materials and processes can go a long way when you’re first starting out. However, it shouldn’t just be a one way street. Onboarding should be a collaborative and incremental process that every new hire(and employee) actively contributes to. Things change from onboarding class to onboarding class, especially in a fast moving startup. It is therefore not only up to the existing members but also the new hires to contribute to the onboarding experience and documentation to keep it up to date and make it better overtime. Here are some recommendations for making onboarding not only productive for you but also better for future new hires.

Take Your Time to Onboard

Onboarding isn’t a race to the finish line. It can feel like you need to onboard as quickly as possible and be productive right away. However, you have to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and this time is important to build a good foundation for the rest of your time at the company. You don’t want to jump in before you’re ready and struggle to keep up. Take your time to properly onboard, and learn as much as you can during this time. Your team will be understanding that you are onboarding and shouldn’t feel like you need to be productive from day 1. Although there is generally a set time period for new hires to still be onboarding, the first month or two generally depending on your company. Take full advantage of your expected onboarding period. When you run into something you don’t know or haven’t seen before, take the time to really dig into it and learn it. Do your own research or ask teammates about it and make sure you fully understand it. Once again, this will pay off in the future and help you compound your knowledge as you continue to learn and work at the company.

Write and Update Documentation

As you are onboarding hopefully there is already some documentation on how to at the very least setup local development. Depending on your company, you may also have documentation on team specific information, common tasks, etc. Find out what your company uses to store documentation(Google Drive, Github, Notion, Confluence, Dropbox Paper, etc.) and look through it for even more documents. As you go through this documentation, if there’s anything that doesn’t make sense or is outdated make sure to update the documentation. And if you realize there isn’t any documentation for something you encountered then you should write it! Anything you do while onboarding that didn’t have clear directions or documentation, feel free to write it up yourself. Even once you are done onboarding, you should continue this. Every little improvement will benefit someone else down the road and make them productive quicker, multiplying your effect and increasing overall productivity.

Take Notes During Onboarding

Take notes of things that went well during your onboarding and things that could have gone better. These will be important for improving the situation for the next hire(s). Take these notes to your manager and talk through the good and bad. This will help the organization understand what they are doing well and what they can do to make it better for the next hire on your team. Your manager will want to make sure they are doing everything they can to help you onboard better and improve the situation for the future.

Ask Questions

Asking questions and getting good answers is incredibly important during onboarding. You may get blocked often while onboarding because there are a lot of unknowns and that’s okay. But don’t wait too long to unblock yourself. One big thing to remember is, you should never hesitate to reach out to someone because they seem too busy. They may be busy but they will normally make the time to help onboard new people. Although not all onboarding buddies may be okay with constant interruptions, it is reasonable that you should try and limit their context shifting. Therefore, setup time to talk with your onboarding buddy or teammate. Setting up time can help limit this but also ensure you get your questions answered. At first this should probably be a set time daily for the first week, but as you continue to onboard it can be less often.

Good Onboarding and Helping Out New Hires is a 10X Situation

The 10x engineer is often talked about in tech and seen as a unicorn of sorts. For those not familiar, it was commonly thought that a 10x engineer performed 10 times as efficiently as other engineers, performing the work of 10 engineers. However, I don’t think that a 10x engineer should only be more efficient but I think 10x engineers are engineers who help 10X the learning of other engineers as well. A 10x engineer helps their whole team be more efficient by teaching and mentoring them. This applies directly to onboarding and new hires. The faster new hires onboard the faster they can be productive. Spreading information to more people makes everyone better and creates a cycle of spreading information, which can lead not only to a 10x situation but a 100x situation where multiple people within your org are increasing their knowledge and productivity by 10x. The real “unicorn” engineers are the ones who lift up the whole organization or team, and onboarding is a key component of that. Everyone should realize the importance of a good onboarding period for new hires and how it can help the organization as a whole.


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