Startup Life: Some Suggestions for Bringing New Developers Onboard

Bringing new developers onboard means adopting an approach that lies somewhere on a continuum stretching from a 3-month-boot-camp-before-writing-a-single-line-of-production-code policy to simply letting things take their course. But one thing’s certain: If you have no plan at all, your results will be less than optimal, and chances are that one day you’ll find yourself with a mess on your hands.

The Smartling Way

Here at Smartling, our general idea is to get each newly-arrived and carefully-selected developer up and running and giving us full value as quickly as possible, with total involvement and at minimum risk. Assuming that your goal is the same, here are some suggestions:

  • Get your new hires into production, writing code, on day one—without fail. Of course, their code must be reviewed… but you’re doing that regularly anyway, right?
  • Assign your new hires to smaller, well-defined tasks. That way, they’ll be able to bring your infrastructure into focus one piece at a time, rather than be overwhelmed by struggling to wrap their heads round the whole thing at once. Once they’re comfortable, gradually increase size and complexity.
  • Hook each new hire up with a “buddy” to get them up and running, and to be a first line of defense for all incoming questions. You don’t want them thrashing around looking for answers, but you don’t want them knocking on your own door every five minutes.
  • Learn from them as they learn about you. Make sure that as your new hires look for and find answers, they document everything on your wiki that hasn’t already been documented.
  • Get them involved in tests and code reviews right away. There’s no reason not to, and it will give them valuable insights into what your established developers are up to.
  • Make sure that your new hires are also involved from the start in sales and customer support calls and activities. It’s important to you—or should be important—that they see themselves as part of a team that’s working together to give your users the best possible service and experience.

This is what we’ve found works at Smartling, but we’re not alone. Of course, every organization is different, and every hiring manager has different priorities. The suggestions above should, however, be a good starting point for web-based operations of similar size (and a good deal larger) with a similar product.