5 best practices for onboarding new developers

Mislav Stanic
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15 minutes
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Onboarding
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When you’re hiring, finding the right people is only half the battle; you want to keep them satisfied and productive. However, according to statistics, 25% of new employees will leave a company within the first year.

If this is happening to you as well, your onboarding process might lack efficiency, and your new developers are not receiving a proper onboarding experience.

To help you out, we’ve highlighted five best practices for onboarding new developers.

Let’s start.

Start with robust pre-boarding

You’ve worked hard and managed to recruit new developers; however, it’s still not a completely done deal. Chances are that they are still considering other offers since they have some time to change their mind before they start working for you.

You can use pre-boarding to ensure they choose to stay with you. However, many companies perform little or no pre-boarding at all. Most of them don’t even separate that practice from onboarding.

We understand that the line between pre-boarding and onboarding can appear somewhat blurry, so to make things clear, we will explain what the former entails.

Pre-boarding starts when your new developers formally accept your job offer and ends on their first day of work.

Source: typelane.com

You should always start this process with a warm welcome; you want your new employees to start feeling like a part of the team straight away.

While sending a welcoming email is a classic, it’s a good idea to extend a warm welcome over your social media accounts as well.

This way, you can introduce the new developer to the whole team even before they start working.

Existing employees can be made aware of the new addition to the team and welcome them on social media, making them feel like they already know the people they’ve interacted with online by the time they actually join the company.

Below is an example of how a global software development company Algoworks greets their new software engineers on Facebook.

Source: Facebook

While many companies will start and end their pre-boarding with a warm welcome, the process is just getting started.

The main goal of pre-boarding is to take the pressure off your new developers when the actual onboarding process begins. You don’t want them to get overwhelmed.

Also, pre-boarding should prepare them for the first day of work so that they can be more productive straight away.

Bug and crash reporting tool for your mobile app.

Therefore you should get them to do all the tedious paperwork during the pre-boarding process. You don’t want to kill their enthusiasm on their first day of work with a bunch of papers to fill in and sign.

The next thing to do during this process is to familiarize them with your company’s culture.

You can do this by sharing access to handbooks and internal forums so that they can connect with their new coworkers in a more meaningful way.

Source: netguru.com

For example, Netguru has a carefully thought-out section about their core values that every employee has access to, even before they come into work on their first day.

That way, incoming employees have a good sense of how to fit in with the culture of their new workplace.

Trello does a similar thing.

They host their employee manual on their own platform, giving new employees a chance to learn about the company’s culture and work processes, while at the same time getting comfortable with using the Trello platform.

Source: trello.com

To follow these great examples, just make sure to have all the important information documented for new employees, from company guidelines to the tools they’ll use.

And don’t forget to include software tutorials and instructions on how to solve common bugs.

To keep track of all of these pre-boarding tasks, you can use a checklist. In this way, you’ll ensure that you don’t skip a step.

Here is an example of one, but don’t be afraid to customize it to your company’s needs.

Source: Shake

So, to recap, while onboarding your new developers, make sure not to skip pre-boarding. This way, you can get a head start on the paperwork and introduce them to the company’s culture.

And don’t forget to make a checklist so that you can easily keep track of your pre-boarding tasks.

Pair them up

While pre-boarding takes the edge off for your new developers, there will still be a lot of information for them to process.

Plus, a new working environment always comes with a fair amount of stress and anxiety for the incoming employee.

Just look at the experience this Reddit user had when starting a new dev job:

Source: reddit.com

A great way to combat anxiety and fear is to pair them up with one of your existing employees.

Many companies these days are using the buddy system, and it’s no wonder since it’s a great way to ease the recruits into the workflow and bring them to full productivity in less time.

Usually, the role of a buddy is to introduce the new employees to their new job responsibilities, help them get used to the new environment, answer any questions they might have, and walk them through company procedures.

After all, as you can tell from the Reddit comment below, it’s nice to have a friendly face around.

 Source: reddit.com

It’s also important to mention that a buddy can serve as a mentor and give the new developers some pointers on what they need to improve.

For example, when Elymer Orozco started working as a developer at Runtastic, she was assigned an onboarding buddy.

She reports feeling surprised by the amount of support she got and the team’s willingness to help:

“For some people, it might be the first time they work with pull requests. It takes some time to get used to them. But it is also very rewarding. I was surprised by the amount of feedback you get and the knowledge-sharing that is happening. People will send you links and point out ways your code can be improved.”

That’s a great onboarding experience right there.

But remember, the responsibility of quality onboarding shouldn’t fall squarely on the buddy’s shoulder.

The entire development team can help them learn and become integrated into the team.

Source: runtastic.com

So, which member of your team would be the best choice for an onboarding buddy? It used to be common practice for a senior developer to introduce new ones to the job.

However, nowadays, some companies suggest assigning junior developers instead.

While this might sound a bit counterintuitive, since they haven’t got lots of experience with the company, it actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

Junior developers might lack general experience, but when it comes to the onboarding process, their impressions are still fresh since they were newbies themselves not too long ago.

As a result, they will have lots of useful advice, and besides, your new developers will feel better around someone who has been through the same thing relatively recently.

All in all, the buddy system is a fantastic onboarding method used to share knowledge and help the new developers get their bearings.

Give it a try!  

Prepare the tools they’ll need for work

Before your new developers arrive, it is wise to prepare all the tools they’ll need for the job. This includes setting up their desk and computer and also all the accounts and logins for the systems they’ll be using.

Source: quora.com

When you make the necessary preparations, your developers will be able to hit the ground running with their first tasks.

They won’t have to waste large amounts of time on setting up, like the Reddit user in the screenshot below had to do.

Source: reddit.com

On the other hand, this Reddit user had a much better onboarding experience, since everything was set up for them in the first ten minutes:

Source: Reddit

However, it’s even better to do this a few days prior to the employee’s arrival.

For instance, at Ionic Framework, a platform for building mobile apps, they make sure to set up a computer, desk, and all the technical equipment before their developers start their first day.

Their co-founder and CEO Max Lynch, who has been in the industry for over ten years, also recommends ensuring that all the important accounts such as Slack and email are ready for use from day one.

This is in line with a core value the company set out for itself: to empower others to do their best work.

Source: Ionic

Netguru, the software development company from Poland that we mentioned in a previous section, follows the same principles; their recruits receive an email containing all the setup instructions before starting their first day at work.

Source: netguru.com

You can also send welcome kits and swag to your new developers before they start work. Welcome kits contain items that new hires will need for their job.

Usually, you will find pens, laptops, notebooks, and other useful things in a standard welcome kit. But, don’t keep it too formal; add something fun inside as well.

Remember, nowadays, onboarding kits are more than just practical.

For instance, this welcome kit from Salesforce contains a toy gun.

Source: medium.com

Google has some fun stuff in its kit as well.

Source: Arti Prasad on YouTube

And don’t just send the same kit to everyone; try to personalize it a little.

Of course, you can’t know your new developer’s favorite candy bar straight away, but you can add a name tag at the very least.

Clearly, your new developers won’t be able to pick up everything immediately, so you should make learning easier for them, by preparing all the equipment they’ll need for their job and making them feel welcome with some company swag and using some company swag to make them feel welcome.

Make them feel welcome from day one

The first day of work should be a red carpet experience, but it is undoubtedly hard.

Just remember your first day at a new job; new environment, new people, no familiar faces, loads of new things to learn. You probably felt lost and overwhelmed.

So, clearly, when your new developers first arrive, they will most likely be a little anxious and confused.

However, it doesn’t have to be like that; there are numerous things you can do to make new employees feel welcome from day one.

From the Reddit comment below, you can see what a typical first day at work looks like in most companies.

Source: reddit.com

So, some of the common activities that can make the first day of work a little more comfortable for your new employees are team introductions and office tours.

Get them acquainted with the projects they’ll be working on and include them in the team meetings to help them get accustomed to their new environment.

Also, don’t forget to take them to lunch, you don’t want them eating alone on their first day.

Source: LinkedIn

Except for making your new developers feel welcome in the office, you should also do it online.

This is especially beneficial if you have a bigger company or if a lot of your employees work remotely, since it will be impossible for them to get introduced to everyone on the first day or even the first week.

As we’ve already mentioned in the pre-boarding section, you can share the news of their arrival on your social media accounts.

Facebook and Instagram are great places to do this.

Sometimes, these introductions can get a little dull, so you can add a fun fact about your new arrival to spice things up a little.

Below you can see how 4mation, a software company from Sydney, Australia introduced their new developer Marcus to the team, sharing some of his favorite books.

What a great way to connect him with other bookworms in the company!

However, you shouldn’t limit such good news only to your social media, share them on your blog as well.

You can even conduct a little interview with the new developer, as Circle Interactive did.

Their developer, Rhiannon, joined the company remotely in the middle of the pandemic.

It can be tricky to organize a warm welcome for a remote worker, but judging from Rhiannon’s words, the team at Circle Interactive has nailed it.

Long story short, we all know how hard being the new kid can be, so make sure to introduce your new developers to everyone and give them an office tour. Remember, feeling accepted is important.

Assign them meaningful first tasks

The last onboarding practice we’ll talk about is assigning tasks and not just any tasks: ones that truly contribute to the company’s goals.

Often companies will hold meaningful assignments for later on and entrust their new developers only with practice tasks that they have no real use of. Usually, the reason behind this is the desire to avoid overwhelming their new employees straight away.

But, as you can see from the photo below, newbies want to feel valuable; they want to contribute and feel like a part of the team.

Source: reddit.com

Besides, you want and need a productive developer that contributes as soon as possible, and the best way to achieve that is to throw them into the fire right away.

There is a thread on Reddit called The ultimate guide to onboarding new developers where many users, like the one in the photo below, agree that this practice boosts productivity.

Source: reddit.com

Now, we are not telling you to put them on your most challenging project straight away, just to find something more meaningful for them to do, something useful for the company.

For instance, the leading observability platform New Relic gives their new developers a list of starter tasks, mostly minor bug fixes.

A list of Jira tickets will do just fine to get your new developers more comfortable with the codebase.

It’s also important to mention that the tasks you assign to your new employees shouldn’t be evaluated based on the time they spend doing them. Remember, it’s always quality before quantity.

One hundred lines of clean code are worth much more than thousands of lines of messy code. Don’t put pressure on your new employees with short deadlines, let them take their time.

However, it’s a good idea to strive to make their first commit on their first day.

Birkl, a B2B company, does exactly that. In fact, it’s one of the reasons for their growth over the last few years.

Like most startups, they want their new developers to start contributing as soon as possible, so one of their goals is to make their first commit on their first day of work.

But, how do they do it? How do they get their new developers to make their first commit on the first day or even the first week?

Well, according to their co-founder, Tobias Meixner, Coder has played a big role.

Source: coder.com

Basically, using a cloud-based developer workspace like Coder or Gitpod enables your new developers to start coding from day one since they won’t be spending precious time on setting up a developer environment.

In this way, they can make their first commit sooner and start contributing to the team immediately.

Source: Coder on YouTube

The key takeaway here is that you should assign meaningful tasks to your new developers from day one, so that they can start contributing straight away. Time is money, after all.

Conclusion

First impressions matter. That’s why creating the best possible onboarding experience is something to strive for. But, more importantly, you want to make the transition into the new workplace easier for your new developers.

You also want to make sure your new employees stay and start contributing as quickly as possible. Good onboarding can do this for you, it can help retain more of new hires in their first year and also boost their productivity.

It might sound complicated, but don’t worry, with the advice from this article, you’ll be onboarding productive new developers with ease.

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