Many CodePath partners agree that quickly getting early-career software engineers up to speed is one of their biggest challenges.
Managers report that it can take three to nine months for new engineers to get ramped up. In addition, not all engineer onboarding processes are effective, further complicating matters.
A global survey of software developers revealed that 34% suffered from unclear direction at work, while 13% felt challenged collaborating remotely—problems a more structured approach to onboarding could help mitigate.
On the other hand, the right onboarding process helps new software engineers contribute to projects faster without leaving gaps in their knowledge base or sacrificing the employee experience.
Here are five proven steps you can take to onboard your engineers more quickly and effectively.
1. Configure tool and account access before day one
From the perspective of a new hire, onboarding can feel like drinking through a firehose—even in the best of circumstances.
Between learning new processes and integrating into the team, new hires have a lot on their plates from the start. That’s why it’s important to set them up for success before they report for their first day.
From the moment a new hire accepts your offer, the hiring manager should coordinate with the people team to ensure:
- Hardware is ordered and delivered before the first day
- Email accounts and access to tools are already configured
- A specific, detailed onboarding schedule with attainable milestones is provided for the first few weeks and months
- A breakdown of the tech stack—from programming languages and frameworks to data sources and mockup tools like Figma—is shared
Setting this up beforehand not only relieves some of the first-day stress for your new hires—it helps them avoid the sort of frantic context-switching that can keep them from shipping their first lines of code as soon as possible.
2. Share pre-recorded training and process videos
Investing in pre-recorded training videos pays off in the long term. A simple Loom recording from a hiring manager documenting workflows and tools can replace a meeting - saving you and your new hires valuable time. For many teams, it’s a much lower lift to record videos than to produce written training documentation.
Videos also standardize the technical training involved in the onboarding process. When every new engineer watches the same onboarding videos, you avoid inconsistencies or gaps when different people lead training. You can take it further by creating interactive videos with coding practices and challenges that strengthen an early software engineer’s skills.
A few tools to create and share videos directly with your new hires include:
- Vimeo: You can control viewership access with single sign-on (SSO) logins and domain whitelisting. Vimeo also has embed restrictions, so you can limit videos from loading outside of your specified domains, IP addresses, and other settings.
- WeTransfer: With WeTransfer, you can send data-encrypted, large files like videos and password-protect them. You can also set up two-factor authentication.
- Loom: Loom’s Chrome extension makes securely recording a video from your browser possible with one click. You can also set up a private folder and dictate access to individual files to create a personalized experience for your new hire.
Each of these tools comes with the ability to create dedicated file folders for your training videos. You can also copy and paste links to your videos in a folder or document with additional documentation on the onboarding process.
3. Assign the right engineering buddy for your new hires
In addition to the hiring manager, assign new hires an onboarding buddy. The buddy system helps new hires ramp up by pairing them with an experienced engineer to help unblock them when needed and answer questions about tools or workflows.
Google found that new hires paired with buddies reached their full efficiency 25% faster than those without.
To maximize onboarding productivity, you’ll want to find the right onboarding partner for your new engineer. So before making your pick, consider:
- Function: Should the mentor or onboarding buddy work on the same team? Most of the time, this is the ideal situation. But the bandwidth and demands of your team might call for another arrangement. Ideally, the new hire’s buddy can also facilitate collaboration with other stakeholders outside of the new hire’s functional team while they’re getting started.
- Experience: How many years of experience should the mentor have? It often makes sense to deliberately pair junior hires with senior contributors who can show them the ropes.
- Expectations: What will mentorship look like between the two employees? And for how long? Give each party an idea of the scope and important milestones to help them align.
Too often, mentors or onboarding buddies are assigned to check a box. But by asking the right questions, you can position your new hire for success by pairing them with the right “buddy” based on experience level, domain expertise, and more.
4. Set up shared tasks for new hires
Engineering teams work in sprint cycles, so it’s common to have a backlog of lower-impact tasks. Assigning these as shared tasks to your new hire is an excellent way to help them get ramped up.
First, scour the backlog to find appropriate, low-lift tasks to assign to the new hire. Then, the new hire’s engineering buddy makes themselves available to help new hires with these tasks as needed.
Additionally, the engineering buddy can also set up 'pair programming' or ‘paid coding’ sessions with new hires in the first few weeks. These sessions can help clear up any knowledge or process gaps, especially with more junior coders. These sessions start with small tasks and move to more challenging ones.
To set up paired programming, find at least 30 minutes for the newcomer and buddy to write code together. Both will work on one computer, but you can adapt paired programming to remote work environments, too. This arrangement allows the newcomer to verbalize their process and the senior engineer to provide feedback in real-time.
The bottom line: context determines whether shared tasks, paired coding sessions, or both make sense for your new hire. Some engineers need more structure than others in the beginning. Keeping things flexible—and maintaining an open line of communication—is the best way to gauge which approach works best for your new hire.
5. Maximize weekly 1:1 meetings to address new hire challenges
Asking for and providing feedback shows that you value a new hire’s opinions and experiences. Feedback helps you improve the onboarding process and develop a new engineer’s skills and contributions.
But some engineers might hesitate to share feedback directly until you’ve built up trust.
One way to tackle this is by leveraging weekly 1:1 meetings to generate continuous feedback throughout the onboarding process. This not only helps answer your new engineer’s most burning questions—it also provides you with a data point you can use to validate and iterate on your approach to onboarding.
To get started, carve out a few minutes during each 1:1 standup specifically for feedback and questions. Include talking points like:
- What went well this week? What didn’t go well?
- What are some resources that you would've liked to have access to earlier?
- How can we improve our onboarding process?
- What milestones and next steps should we hit before our next meeting?