A Better Way To Onboard

Zach Haehn

VP Engineering at Seismic



"A while ago, I heard from a lot of the engineers that we really needed more seniority on the team, but when I looked at our recruiting pipeline we had a variety of people across experience levels. We were trying to fill a recruiting gap but most of the candidates we were seeing weren't at the level of seniority that the team demanded. What I realized was that what they meant when they said they wanted senior people was that they didn't have time to spend with other people in order to become better engineers. We had hired some new engineers everyone had been excited about, but they didn't work out - I realized we didn't know how to properly onboard a junior engineer. We needed to take action."

Actions taken

"One of the biggest problems junior engineers face is moving from a college mindset, where you are mainly just focused on your own work, to a team-based one. Because of this, the first step we took was to introduce a buddy system." - Key Quote

"One of my engineers actually suggested it to me when talking to me about what would have helped her when she was starting out."

"It's really hard to find a mentor - you can't really force that relationship. Because of this, we don't prescribe a mentor, but when a junior engineer starts working for us, we put them through a rotation of three different teams and we then wait to see what relationships develop. This also allows them to meet a bunch of people across the company and get to know the systems they're going to work on."

"We then sit down with them and ask them who they learned from the most and who they most enjoyed working with. Based on this we pair them up with a mentor who coaches them for at least an hour a week. More often than not the new engineers and their mentors will actually spend more time together than this, chatting and getting lunch together."

"In addition to our buddy program, we plot out specific projects for the new engineers to work on. In this way, we can ensure that they get very precise, defined tasks with clear starts and stops, so they can adjust to the idea of working in a team and getting their code reviewed."

"It's really important to provide quality feedback, especially to junior engineers. In my experience, they are usually the ones who want it the most because they want to know whether what they're doing is right. Provide junior engineers with more feedback than you would with a regular developer, as opposed to just expecting them to ramp up over time. This will help them to develop a relationship where they expect feedback from their manager."

Lessons learned

"This type of rotation has also developed some of our strongest mentorship relationships. This approach has really improved our onboarding and really has helped our junior engineers to adjust to working in a team." - Key Quote

"When I started working as an engineer, I joined a really large company fresh out of school. They had a training program, so I was provided with a really good experience."

"However, sometimes as a manager, you forget about the experiences you have gone through when you move into a new company. But if you don't have a formal training program in your company, then you need to at least provide your junior engineers with some form of structure. This shows them that you're invested in them as people, rather than just being invested in completing the projects."

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Zach Haehn

VP Engineering at Seismic

Engineering ManagementMentorship ProgramsFeedback TechniquesTeam & Project Management

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