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Secret Sauce – How We Onboard Engineers at Edify: A Q&A with Director of Data Science Kate Farmer

Ashley Swanson

How does a company that specializes in technical onboarding create its own program for software engineers? At Edify, our secret sauce is a mix of our own product – eddy – with our philosophy on technical onboarding. 

Our Director of Data Science, Kate Farmer, explains how Edify developed an onboarding process that’s specific to engineering teams, places new hires in the fast lane, and can improve company culture. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q & A – Technical onboarding at Edify

Why is it important to have an onboarding process with engineers in mind? Why should we make this distinction?

Kate – I think that there are a lot of specifics about how engineering teams function, and how engineers have to work on those teams. And when you join a new company, oftentimes you’re given onboarding [about] company policies at large, but not the specifics on how best to work with your team.

How does this specific team conduct their project management, how does this specific team do code reviews, how do they deploy new code to production. That can be wildly different across teams. Having a good onboarding program that levels the playing field, for everybody involved to actually be productive in their work, quicker. 

It just sets everything out on the table, makes it clear what expectations are, and how to meet them.

Do you think Edify’s process helps define and check assumptions as well?

Kate – Oh, absolutely. A lot of times you’ll come into a team with a lot of assumptions based on how things worked at your previous team or previous company. Or even just how you think they should be. Should is the enemy of truth. 

If everyone thinks they’re going on the same path, and you find out that ‘oh we’re in two different cities,’ that’s not great.

Kate – Exactly. In my opinion, [checking assumptions is] one of the really important things for creating more diversity, inclusion and belonging on software engineering teams. You know we’re always trying to create more diversity in tech, and that requires inclusive and equitable workspaces. 

When you’re coming into an engineering team as a woman or a person of color, it can be that much more intimidating to ask those questions to validate your assumptions, because you’re that much more worried about seeming like you don’t deserve to be there. 

Having that solid onboarding program just creates that total equity around here’s exactly what we need to do, and everybody can be on the same page.

“Never Not Onboarding”

What is the timeframe of Edify’s onboarding process? Do you know when you’re done onboarding? Are you ever done onboarding?

Kate – Never not onboarding is one of the philosophies that I personally stand by. For us [at Edify], we are really focused on the first 30 days of somebody joining a team. That’s where eddy’s plan is targeted for, it’s a 30 day onboarding plan. 

We talk about 30, 60, and 90 day objectives. You spend a lot more time doing onboarding tasks in the first week to two weeks. Then a little bit less in week three and week four. And then even less in month two. 

And by the time you get to month three, you’re really not spending much time dedicated to onboarding. But we do still have it as part of the process, because we will check in at the 90 day mark, and ask the question: ‘Okay here’s the objectives we set on day one, how are we doing? Do we think we’ve met them?’ 

One of the things that we know is that on a lot of [engineering] teams, it can take upwards of six months for a new member to really feel integrated into the team and feel productive. 

With our onboarding program, we really do see that come down into the 30 day range. They’re not 100 percent there at 30 days, but they are 99 percent.

There’s always going to be things to learn, whether you’ve been on your job for six weeks or six years. We really want to frontload as much of that as possible so you can get up to the speed sooner. 

Transparency & Success

What has been the impression so far, when you’ve put new engineers in Edify’s technical onboarding process? 

Kate – The thing that we hear over and over again that people appreciate is transparency. There’s a lot of clarity in how we build out everything about our engineering team. Even in the moment you apply for a job, through the interview process, through the onboarding process and beyond, “what is expected of me” is the core question. We don’t ever want [our engineers] to be unsure about that. 

Have you seen the transparent onboarding process change how mentors and managers relate to coworkers and employees? 

Kate –As a manager, this culture of clarity of expectations is one that makes me do a lot of work and intentional practice around how I manage and how I mentor my team. Because it’s something that is so ingrained in how we work and what we do, I think I’ve spent more time in the last six months at Edify thinking about how we interview and how we onboard than I did at four years at some of my other companies. It’s just that critical here. 

At one point with my team we were having one of these expectation-setting conversations. One of my team members said to me, ‘Okay, now I know what the expectations are of me, how do I tell you what my expectations are for you?’ It was a good call out, I appreciate that. 

And I loved that he felt not only confident enough to say that to a manager, because on a lot of teams that would not be received well. But he knew that was something we would really respond well to and work with.

How do you start building the onboarding plan? Because eddy needs information, resources and documentation to be its best bot. 

Kate – I was really lucky when I joined Edify, I got to work with a full functioning version of eddy. That meant that all of the thought had already gone into building the onboarding plan. [There’s] 70 questions to help you build out your onboarding plan – they are very targeted and specific. Everything from: how do you set up your cloud environments to what’s your tech stack. 

And that’s been really helpful, because it’s hard to start from a blank page with an onboarding plan. You have this huge task of taking everything we know about how to work on a team and try to transfer that into another person’s mind. That’s really daunting. Having this big questionnaire as a starting point helps to check yourself and think. 

Edify uses eddy, the slackbot, but in-person, human-to-human conversation sounds just as important. 

Kate – We do use eddy for our teams, but just like we tell our customers, eddy should not replace human-to-human contact for onboarding. Eddy is an enhancement. 

We let eddy do what eddy is great at, which is being regular, reliable, persistent – those are things that can be hard for humans, but are super easy for our bot. But we don’t try to have eddy do the things that our human managers, leaders, mentors and buddies are best at, which is collaboration, conversation, open communication. 

Building your own secret sauce

If any of this interview resonates with you, try out a free demo with eddy to see how your technical onboarding plans can improve and thrive. 

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