Hey, welcome to RV! I’m Daniel, and we’re going to deploy your code to production today.
Well, that’s one way to dive right in on your first day.
I joined Red Ventures’ Bankrate team as a Software Engineer with only a few months’ professional programming experience. Coming in as a junior developer, I knew I had a lot to learn – but I was more than excited for the opportunity to grow.
My manager and my team have challenged me to push myself, supporting me every step of the way. Now only a little over a year later, I co-lead an engineering team that’s hiring like crazy. (Yes, we’re looking for juniors!)
Why hire a junior?
What junior engineers lack in on-the-job experience, they make up for with their fresh perspectives, open minds, and eagerness to learn. When you invest in someone so early in their career, you can build good habits into their workflows (TDD anyone?) and shape their development to fit your team’s needs. In turn, these new teammates reward your investment with loyalty. They quickly become strong culture carriers who are committed to their team’s success and their company’s overall mission. In short: want a new high performing team member who’s hungry to grow? Hire a junior, and help them reach their full potential.
After sitting down with my manager to reflect on my onboarding experience, I’ve come up with 5 takeaways that were instrumental to my success – and that will help any team fast track their new junior tech hires:
1. Embrace pairing.
When a developer is onboarded to a project, their primary mission is to learn the ins and outs of the new code base. The best way to share knowledge, fast? Work together.
I was assigned a mentor my first day on the job. Together we delivered business value, while reviewing different parts of my first project. Any time I was unfamiliar with fundamentals – such as the inner workings of the Vuex store, or the browser event lifecycle – we worked together to fill in my technical gaps on the spot.
As we sifted through work tickets, we also started a list of things I could wait to learn later on down the road. For example, instead of dropping everything to dig deep on the conventions of a framework (like Laravel), we’d note that I should learn it soon. In the meantime, I could proceed with a high-level understanding and an eye for patterns.
Within just a few weeks of working with my mentor, I was familiar with many facets of the project. Plus, I’d gained a deeper understanding of our overall stack, workflow, deployment practices, and monitoring.
2. Provide learning resources.
There are tons of great resources available to help new engineers round out their skill sets – from deep dives on new languages and frameworks, to code review best practices, and overviews of the product life cycle. Take the time to explore your options (i.e. Pluralsight, Laracasts) for self-service learning on demand.
My mentor regularly explained how and why code worked, supplementing his lectures with YouTube videos, documentation links, and blog posts. My manager also showed me how to use all the additional learning tools Red Ventures’ L&D team provides for its employees. Having access to so many educational resources helped me figure out which areas I wanted to learn more about. Ultimately, this empowered me to take my personal development into my own hands.
3. Encourage ownership.
Business initiatives drive priorities on every engineering team, but when it comes to individual tickets and features, there’s room to choose where to focus. As a manager, be sure to ask, “What do you want to work on?” And really listen to the answer.
When I joined Red Ventures, I primarily had front end experience. In my first few weeks I expressed an interest in getting into backend and developing more full-stack. To my manager’s credit, she took it in stride. She supported me and even moved me to a team with full-stack projects. Being part of an open environment where I have a say in which projects I work on has given me an even greater sense of ownership and pride in my work.
Over the next few months, I regularly assumed responsibility for tickets where I had to learn before I started coding. This taught me how to solve problems independently – and backed by my team of supportive coworkers, I always felt comfortable reaching out for help if I got stuck.
4. Be humble.
For someone who’s completely new to the world of tech, it’s encouraging to see that your more senior teammates don’t necessarily know “everything,” either. As a leader, be a champion of continuous learning at all levels – and stay humble, no matter how much experience you have.
Any time I reach out for help, I am consistently met with a positive response. On my team, we answer the phrase, “I don’t know” with a quick, “Let’s figure it out.” No question is too basic to ask – we’re all simply trying to learn. We challenge each other to get better every day, and we don’t shy away from asking questions that force us to grow. Our unofficial team mantra is this: “When one of us succeeds, we all do.”
And lastly, if you can…
5. Release on the first day!
Want to know the magic formula for an instant, over-enthusiastic high-five? Ship a text color change to production. 😉 (Ok, you should try for something a little bigger than that.)
Whether it’s adding a simple tooltip or changing text for SEO, getting code into production on the first day is a huge morale boost for your new hire – and for the whole team. Saying, “We did it!” at the end of Day 1 is a great way to bond, and it reinforces a culture of celebrating wins – even small ones.
Confession: I’d be lying if I said I remember exactly what changes I released on my first day at RV. But I do remember how adamant my mentor was that get it done together… and how great it felt to contribute so quickly to my new team.
In conclusion: just do it!
Next time you’re looking for a kick-*ss new team member, consider a junior. If you invest time up front, collaborate, promote learning at all levels, and encourage open communication, you’ll wind up with an empowered, motivated teammate who’s eager to take ownership over their projects – and personal development.