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The Four Pillars of Technical Onboarding

Kristen Buchanan

Technical onboarding programs are flexible, practical guides for moving through the onboarding process. And while your onboarding program will evolve to meet the changing needs of your team and company, we believe that every onboarding program needs a strong foundation.

Our team defined four essential pillars of any successful technical onboarding program. Does your onboarding program incorporate all four?

#1 - Tech & Tooling

Technical knowledge is the backbone of any tech and engineering product environment.

Identifying the essential technical components for new hires to understand will help shift your onboarding program from generic information to practical, specific tools that new hires can use to be successful in their role.

Not sure where to start with this?

Consider what information is important to the team, but isn’t fully defined in onboarding documentation. Also, ask your more experienced team members what questions they repeatedly answer for new hires. This will point you in the direction of the most useful tech and tooling information for new engineers.

#2 - Professional Expectations

When a new engineer joins the team, coworkers and managers might expect a certain level of professionalism and method of communication.

Unfortunately, those expectations aren't often clearly communicated when the new hire first arrives.

For teams that have been working together for a while, the culture and chain of communication is simply understood among experienced members, and isn’t shared specifically in the onboarding process. This system of unwritten processes leaves new engineers in the dark, and they might unknowingly interfere with the team workflow. Or worse, make the new hire feel like an outsider

Avoid preventable miscommunication and tension by getting clear on the culture of your team, company, and expectations for new engineers.

The best way to do this is to think about the things that matter most to your team. What are the main goals and workflows of the team? How is communication handled between team members, and with other teams at the company? Is there a preferred method of documentation for specific messages or requests? All of this information needs to be recorded, saved, and shared with new hires - with guidance on why it matters.

#3 - Process

Technical team members utilize and take ownership of a host of processes on a daily basis. But — like professional expectations and communication — those processes may not be clearly defined or written down.

Many teams try to remedy this lack of communication by having new hires meet with key stakeholders, and trust that the information is verbally communicated.

But one-on-one meetings, when not structured with clear guidelines and teaching tenets, are highly variable. This method of training assumes that experienced team members are effective teachers (which may or may not be the case), and that they will deliver standardized walkthroughs of processes without the structure to do so.

Define the essential processes that new hires should know by focusing on the daily rhythm of your team. What tasks, situations, and troubleshooting happens on a frequent basis? Are those processes and solutions recorded somewhere, or do they exist as "common knowledge" among your team?

#4 - Product

This last pillar is often overlooked by tech companies, and it sets new engineers up for confusion and uncertainty. While the most essential information in any onboarding program will help new hires with their specific role, it’s important to include context for the bigger picture.

Think of it this way: new hires can't support their team or company goals if they don't understand what they’re building, or why.

In addition to supporting new hires with practical tools for their job, identify which systems and processes are specifically related to the product and product launches.

For the first few days, focus on the basics. What exactly is your product? How complex is it? What do new engineers need to know about it to understand how their role supports the production process?

As the new hire spends more time with the team, build that product awareness by focusing on competency.

What situations offer opportunities for the new engineer to problem solve on their own? What range of different functions should they be able to perform? This is also a great opportunity for pair programming, so that the new hire can explore the product, and solve bug issues without impacting the customer facing product.

These four pillars are just the beginning. If you're ready to give your technical onboarding program an upgrade, we're here to help. Click here to try our solution, eddy.

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