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How to Improve the Onboarding Experience for Developers?
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How to Improve the Onboarding Experience for Developers?

Starting a new job is exciting, but it’s also nerve-wracking. Fresh-faced developers have a lot to take in. Team cultures, lists of do’s and don’ts, and first-time assignments may quickly overwhelm someone who’s trying to fit in. New team members might also have performance anxiety and need more guidance during their first few months.

Onboarding is a process that helps address first-day jitters and supports the acclimation of new hires to the team. During onboarding, employees often experience a stronger sense of their job duties and an organization’s values. It’s a critical time that could influence their contributions and decisions to stay or leave. Onboarding processes must be efficient and thorough to be effective. Here are some ways to improve the experience for your new developers.

Give Feedback That Focuses on Skills

Developing strong team members takes time and encouragement. However, they’re not going to get up to speed by taking on too much too soon. New hires also won’t appreciate unclear guidance or criticism that feels like a personal attack. Infrequent feedback is another problem that could dampen developers’ enthusiasm.

After all the introductions, office tours, and software training sessions, plan on giving your junior developers test assignments. It should be work that challenges them just enough and allows them to demonstrate their skill sets. Have new team members work with assigned mentors or fellow developers on test assignments. This will give them a live resource to work with as questions and challenges come up.

Once the assignment is complete, mentors and team leads can use project management software to give specific feedback. Ask questions about the work itself and probe for insights into the developer’s approach and reasoning. Point out potential problems with the work and its results while discussing suggestions and aspects that turned out well. Giving critiques this way will focus on developing your new team member’s skills and methods.

Check-In More Often

You don’t want to be a helicopter manager, but meeting with new hires more often can be helpful. Whereas a seasoned developer might only need a monthly check-in, newbies can benefit from weekly individual meetings. This is a time to discuss concerns, project wins, and career development goals. However, it’s also a time to get feedback about what you can do better.

Listening to what your developers struggle with and their suggestions help identify improvements for the whole team. Maybe there are some confusing pieces of documentation that you could revamp. Miscommunications and misunderstandings might reveal a need for a new process or extra step others have overlooked. You can also provide individual pointers and guidance so developers can become more effective or efficient.

Likewise, discovering what went well for a junior developer and what they’re excited about helps identify future opportunities. You’ll sense how they’d like to contribute and grow with the team. Surveys show software developers want to learn new skills and take on stretch assignments. About 63% enjoy learning something new, and 72.2% say continuous learning is their largest source of career motivation.

Managers who aren’t supporting on-the-job learning increase the risk of bored or disengaged team members. Promising new developers that don’t feel supported in their ambitions may also be more likely to leave. Checking in often during the first few months will better prepare you to arrange assignments according to career interests.

Centralize Critical Documentation

Learning a new job is like figuring out how to put furniture together. Most people need documented steps and visual diagrams to successfully complete the task. Without instructions, DIY furniture would go back into the box and remain unused.

Similarly, new developers should have information to refer to if someone’s not around. Documentation efficiently disseminates details about workflows, policies, tools, vendors, and in-house contacts. Those who are self-directed will first seek out documentation and look to it for guidance. If your organization doesn’t have this, you could create a frustrating experience for new hires.

After all, developers are eager to contribute and be successful. Asking questions of others is expected. Yet, if they constantly do this, junior developers may feel incompetent or useless. At the very least, they’ll feel less productive as they have to search for someone who might know the answers. But when documentation is centralized and accessible, new team members can get up to speed and know where to begin.

Introduce Developers to the Basics

This element should go without saying. Nonetheless, companies without formal onboarding processes can sometimes overlook the basics. This includes giving new hires an overview of what the company does and who it serves. For instance, will your developers be working on projects for specific clients? Go over who those customers are, their expectations, and the challenges the team has overcome.

New team members should also be introduced to key contacts within the company. Explain who they’ll work with and who to contact when specific questions or problems emerge. Use this as an opportunity to go over the developer’s unique role and how they fit in. Review expectations for the first few weeks and even up to 90 days. You don’t want to give recent hires too much to digest, but they do need some sense of structure.

Onboarding is also the best time to introduce developers to colleagues and integrate them into the team. Group activities and relationship-building exercises are one way to do this. Another method is having developers work with all key team members during the first month. Give staff members formal and informal ways to get to know their peers so they can start building trust.

Onboarding for Developers

Amazingly, 60% of employers do not set goals or milestones for new hires. Leaving junior developers to their own devices is setting them up to fail. A structured onboarding process that provides feedback, communication, and on-the-job support is necessary if you want developers to succeed. Most importantly, effective onboarding demonstrates that you value your recent hires’ contributions and want them to stay engaged.

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