We've seen through experience that cookie cutter corporate onboarding programs aren't enough to support new software engineers and help technical teams thrive. That's why we built eddy, our engineering onboarding slackbot that's designed to build customized technical onboarding programs for busy engineering teams.
Our approach to engineering onboarding is based on our three layer cake model, which is the tried-and-true method we've used to build custom onboarding programs for years. Now that we’re often onboarding employees remotely, having this structure can be even more helpful.
The three layer cake model is a perfect way to understand the fundamental differences between corporate onboarding and technical onboarding. Here's how it works:
Top Layer: Corporate Onboarding
Corporate onboarding is the onboarding process that everyone is going to experience, no matter what their role is in the company. Corporate onboarding includes HR culture, the company's history, what exactly the company does, how and what we sell, and more. Think of this as a broad stroke that introduces any new hire to the company.
Unfortunately, even this big picture view of a company isn't always included in onboarding programs. For some companies, "onboarding" is actually just orientation for new hires to learn about pay, benefits, company policies, and more. That's critical information, but it's not really in the realm of onboarding.
Ideally we love to see company history, a product demo at minimum, information about the company's customer, and notable competition included in corporate onboarding.
Middle Layer: Departmental Onboarding
Departmental onboarding is the next layer of the cake model, and it's a critical part for technical teams.
Depending on how your technical organization is organized, you probably have multiple teams within one engineering or product organization. Some groups call it products, some call it engineering, some groups call it technology, etc. When any of those teams brings on a new employee, that employee is considered a "technical new hire".
No matter what their role is, every technical new hire should learn how their role, team, and department fits into the bigger network of your technical organization. They should also be given guidelines on how the different departments work with each other, and how communication is managed between departments. To help organize the information that is consistent across the entire technical department, we recommend thinking about it in four categories: tooling, process, professional expectations, and product.
Bottom Layer: Team Onboarding
The last layer of the cake, and perhaps the most important for new engineers is team onboarding, which varies a lot between different teams. Whether you are a squad that works on a particular feature of the product, or you work on a platform or a backend part of the product will shape this third specific level of onboarding.
One thing that should be addressed by any team onboarding program is team knowledge to be shared with the new hire. How are communications handled between team members? What are the values of the team? What are the systems and processes used by the team on a daily and weekly basis? What are the team goals? Use these questions as guidelines when setting up your team onboarding plan.
For technical new hires, onboarding could even go beyond those three layers. Companies can include role-specific onboarding for developers in different teams. Specific onboarding depends on how complex your organization is and how deeply you want to go in developing an onboarding program for them.
The benefits of technical onboarding go beyond helping the new hire get settled into their role. When it comes to collaborating with other departments during the hiring process, understanding how technical onboarding makes a difference for new hires can help you advocate for a technical onboarding program in conversations with HR, operations, and finance.