Career moves like starting a new role are challenging, can often be unnerving, and for sure requires leveling up.
A few months back, I accepted an offer with another business group at Intel. To me, it was a great way of exploring new opportunities within the company and experiencing another flavor of its engineering culture. This new role was a scale-up from my previous one, a lot of new areas for me to contribute, learn, and explore.
What helped me tackle this was defining how I onboarded in the new role. In this article, I am sharing the framework and ideas from my onboarding learnings.
Onboarding done right
A well-defined onboarding is crucial to provide team members with the resources they need to succeed and ensure their expectations match the reality of the organization. It also clears any confusion about the role. Not having the right onboarding experience can often lead to not clearly understanding the new work environment leading to one as the wrong fit for the team.
Usually, onboarding has two distinct & complementary components:
General Onboarding: Getting familiar with the company culture, vision, mission, value, etc.
Role-specific Onboarding: Acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviors to master the role effectively and efficiently.
Joining a new team brings in a plethora of information and emotions and can be quite stressful. If you are reading this as someone who needs to onboard a team member, I highly encourage taking some time to think through the prep work covering basics for onboarding. At the end of the article, I have listed some useful resources for the same.
The focus of this article is someone (particularly a software engineer) who will be onboarding a new role.
The onboarding template
1. Set expectations with yourself
No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.” ― Paulo Coelho
The most important thing is setting expectations for your new role. Sure, you have done quite some assessment before accepting the offer. However, this step talks about goal setting before your first day.
2. Set clear expectations with your manager
Well, you have cracked the role owing to your strengths and the value you potentially bring to the team. Hence, it is vital to discuss the expectations of onboarding with your manager. A few questions to ask:
- What do you suggest I focus on for my first week and month in this team?
- How can I learn more about the project(s)?
- Is there a team ‘how-to’ document I can refer to?
- Who is my dedicated buddy for onboarding?
- What accesses a new member needs to request?
3. Create a plan
Now that you have a fair idea of the expectations, chart out an onboarding plan. It helps to list out activities to not be overwhelmed and create a to-do list to cover all essential tasks.
4. Meet with as many team members as to familiarize
In the pre-covid world, face to face introductions were much easier. It’s not quite the same in a remote environment. Make it a point to proactively reach out to as many team members/ stakeholders and set introductory 1:1s to learn about them, get a preliminary idea of the project, learn more about their preferred working times/ style, etc. This is an opportunity to get started on the technical details about the systems, projects, etc., and also provides a window into other team members’ interests.
5. Work with your buddy on the team
“There is no such thing as a stupid question!”
It can be a bit daunting to ping someone with a question that feels stupid to ask even if it is not. A dedicated buddy on the new team makes it easier to figure out the correct point of contact for your questions. A buddy can help understand communication dynamics within and across the teams, help understand the company/ team abbreviations & acronyms, guide you on your tasks, etc.
6. Ask questions.. A lot of them
Your imposter syndrome sure will not kick in until the first week or two. Maybe it won’t kick in at all. But if you are venturing out for something new, more often it does. A great tip for dealing with this is to be fearless and ask questions (again..there are no stupid questions..). The more you can familiarize yourself with the new team, the project, and the business, the better. It may not all make sense to you all at once but keep notes. Eventually, it will all come together.
It also helps to schedule regular 1:1s with members of your team and driving the agenda on things you wish to understand in the project. Another great way to learn fast is to shadow experienced team members on tasks, understand their thought process, watch them debug issues, understand their communication style.
7. Read the documentation and code
The best way to learn is to read the documentation and code. The information you have heard from your teammates will now start making more sense. Additionally, this will help you recognize potential improvements in the documentation/ codebase for future contributions.
The best way to learn is to do. Nothing beats the feeling of your first commit in the new project- be it a bug fix, a small feature enhancement, documentation improvements, etc. Channel your doer mindset and look for ways to make things better.
9. Seek feedback
In a loop of continuous improvement, nothing triumphs feedback. Seek constructive feedback from your manager, your teammates on what you did better and what are your blind spots. Where can you improve as well as discuss what challenges you are facing and how can you address them?
Good feedback is a two-way conversation. Not only should you receive feedback but also provide it. Be open to sharing what you learned through the onboarding process, what can potentially improve for the future, how did your team members help you feel comfortable with the process, etc.
Owning your onboarding can contribute to your success in the role and can bring joy. I hope these tips and ideas can help new engineers navigate the onboarding successfully.
As promised in the introduction, the following are some really interesting reads about defining an effective onboarding for your team: