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Post by Hiba Amin on Dec 17, 2019 6:29:09 AM

Picture this. 

It’s the morning of your first day at your new job. 

You’re feeling all sorts of emotions. Anxious, scared, nervous. Yet, within the first 30 seconds of walking into your new office, all of those emotions are quickly replaced with excitement, joy and eagerness. 

An amazing onboarding experience will allow you to not only ramp up your new hires faster, but it will keep those positive and engagement-driven feelings present throughout the whole onboarding process. Not to mention, a positive onboarding experience can help reduce new hire turnover by 33%

So, what does it take to have an amazing onboarding experience for new engineer hires? In this article, I’ll walk through how we do things at SoapBox

Minimize jitters as soon as possible on the first day

Make introductions as easy (and positive) as possible

How much better would your first day have been if, when you walked into your new office, people came up to you and said, “Hey [your name], welcome to the team! I’m [their name] and I work in [department]. We’re so excited to have you!” 

On top of that… Every person pronounced your name correctly. 😱🔥

This simple gesture removes one of the biggest jitters that people face on their first day: Meeting the entire team. Your new hire will feel a bigger sense of belonging, especially those who have a name that’s typically mispronounced (like Hiba (hih-bah) or Medi (Mee-dee)). (Your friendly helper the English Pronunciation Respelling Key)

Show them how excited you are that they’ve joined the team

Typically on your first day, there’s a lot of administrative tasks to get through. Setting up your laptop, filling out forms, going to onboarding meetings, etc. The lead up to all of that becomes a little more exciting when your desk looks like a battlefield between a luau and New Year’s Eve party. 👇

How to create the best onboarding experience for new engineering hires

At least for me, throughout my entire first week at SoapBox, I got a deeper sense of belonging each time I walked to my very decorated desk. 

Have an organized onboarding checklist

At SoapBox every new hire, regardless of department, will go through our onboarding checklist. This checklist breaks down what’s needed to be done internally during the weeks leading up to the new hire’s start date but also includes a schedule for their first two weeks of onboarding. 


Here’s a sneak peek of what our checklist looks like: 

Screenshot 2019-12-16 at 10.18.47

Having a checklist minimizes downtime that a new hire might experience. Rather than sitting there awkwardly waiting to be told what’s next, they’re able to decide on that themselves. Having the ability to check off what they’ve completed day-by-day also helps build up their confidence right from day one. 

Assign a non-engineering buddy

A great way to get new hires better acquainted with other teams is to assign a buddy. We suggest assigning a buddy that’s from a completely different department. The purpose of a buddy in an onboarding setting is to:

  • Allow your new hire to add the person to their list of friendly faces 
  • Encourage cross-department collaboration
  • Give your new hire a chance to ask and learn about things like how to use the coffee machine or how to submit expenses. 

“I joined SoapBox as a Junior Software Developer and was assigned a buddy who worked on the Customer Success team. The buddy system was a really nice way to get to know a colleague that I otherwise wouldn’t have interacted with much. Being paired with someone also eased a lot of the pressure that comes with building up brand new relationships.”

-Jaskirt Pooni, Senior Software Developer at SoapBox

General onboarding is important, but you need engineering-specific onboarding too

Engineering-focused presentations

When it comes to onboarding, most organizations will schedule walk-throughs of every department. However, when it comes to engineering, it’s also critical to walk through all of the intricacies of your entire team and tech stack. At SoapBox, we break this down into the following presentations: 

“How we code” presentation

This presentation includes all of the general knowledge needed for new engineering hires to understand how we will work together as a team. In this meeting, we cover things like: 

  • How we use GitHub 
  • Code reviews
  • Pull requests

Infrastructure presentation

This presentation provides new hires with an overview of our overall infrastructure. In this presentation, engineering hires will learn about: 

  • Our servers
  • Where code lives when it’s in production
  • How we deploy code

Frontend presentation + Backend Presentation

More self-explanatory, these two separate presentations will walk through the architecture of our web client and back end systems. Depending on the expertise of the new hire, they’ll spend more time in their area’s presentation. For example, all backend engineers who go through onboarding will experience a more extensive backend presentation than frontend engineers. 

Other presentations 

Other presentations that we run during onboarding, which although are relevant to SoapBox, may not be relevant to all organizations include: 

  • Bots presentation
  • Mobile presentation

Pair programming for their first few tickets

Pair programming, where two developers share a single work station has grown more among teams. In pair programming, one participant is the “driver”, who actually writes code, and the other is the “navigator”, who checks the driver’s work as it’s done and keeps an eye on the big picture. 

The purpose of having pair programming be part of onboarding is to increase the chances that a new hire will push their code live. It’s also an effective way for getting the new hire familiar with your company’s coding style and processes. On top of that, building up any new hire’s confidence is a great way to get them ramped up faster and pushing more quality code. 

“We’ve noticed that when engineers are able to get something into master before the end of their first sprint, they’re more confident in their ability to get the job done. You can also see how happy and accomplished they feel when they submit their first pull request.” 

-Christopher Fraser, Engineering Manager at SoapBox

There’s a clear business case for having a smooth and positive onboarding experience. So, take the time you need to evaluate your current onboarding plan and make the necessary additions to take your experience from good to great.

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