August 30, 2023

Onboarding 2.0 – because motivated developers are priceless

You have successfully recruited a developer for your company – congratulations! And right now your relationship is entering the next phase with a crucial step - onboarding. This is similar to a love relationship, where you let your partner move in with you. Now it's all about making them feel at home as quickly and smoothly as possible

The speed at which the new employee settles into your team defines their productivity and that of the team. Productivity is a by-product, which is of course essential for your company - but the focus should be on people and their integration into your company culture. Because this is about much more than productivity.

Inadequate onboarding is expensive

After all, onboarding developers is critical to ensuring that they become not only productive, but also loyal and engaged members of your team. Research shows that many companies lose 25% of their new hires in their first year. This turnover cost is approximately €43,000 (for comparison, unfilled positions cost approximately €73,000). According to Fortune, 80% of new hires plan to quit if they have been poorly trained - especially in remote work. And developers who stay need about 6-12 months to be fully productive. Of course, this period depends on the size of the company.

On the other hand, successful onboarding beckons with many positive aspects:

  • 70% of team members with first-class onboarding feel they have the "best possible job".
  • With structured onboarding, the chance of new employees staying up to 3 years increases by 69%.
  • According to Boston Consulting Group, effective onboarding increases profit growth by 2.5 times and profit margin by 1.9 times compared to "sink-or-swim" strategies.

Research by Aberdeen Group further found that structured onboarding:

  • Increases productivity by 65%.
  • Increases employee engagement and team integration by 69%
  • Improves employee retention by 50%
  • Promotes the integration of new employees into teams by 49%

In order for you to become part of the final statistic, you can already guess how important an effective and comprehensive onboarding process is for developers.

What successful onboarding of developers can achieve

An effective onboarding process for software developers aims to fully integrate new hires into the company and its culture and unleash their full potential. With a structured onboarding process you can:

  • Set clear expectations and priorities for new developers.
  • Define what developers can expect from your company in return.
  • Set the pace at which developers will contribute to the company's goals.
  • Provide a great “developer candidate journey” for high “developer engagement”.

On the other hand, new employees are not sufficiently trained and disoriented if onboarding is inadequate. The latter creates a sense of lack of professionalism in your organisation. Unanswered questions slow down and frustrate experienced members of the development department, eventually leading to a cumulative decline in productivity and efficiency of the entire team.

Onboarding is the first real opportunity to prepare your new employees for long-term success. Even though some developers are equipped with strong technical skills, acclimatising to the new job can still be a challenge for them. Along with new systems, processes, expectations and a new code base, it's important to get to know the team and the culture.

The four important areas of an effective onboarding programme for developers

Let's look at the job-specific part first. This is basically about four areas that need to be addressed in onboarding (among others).

Product: In-depth understanding of the product they are developing.

Process: Learning the existing workflows, systems and tools.

Software tools: Mastery of the tech stack and development environment

Employee requirements: Understanding of performance and behaviour standards

If your programme does not address all four areas, it can take many months for new developers to fully settle into your organisation. You need to properly understand their needs as learners and tailor the onboarding process to the challenges they face. Remember that skills vary widely, so offer proactive help and break down communication barriers as much as possible.

Compared to other employees in the company, software developers want more efficiency, automation and clear documentation to ensure they can find their way around more quickly and take autonomy and responsibility for their work. Let's look at this in detail next.

Step-by-step guide for the onboarding of developers

Onboarding new employees doesn't have to be complicated if you have the right guidance. The ultimate goal is for them to integrate into your company culture as quickly as possible and ultimately become productive. Here's a step-by-step guide to effective developer onboarding that will help you avoid missteps.

Step 0 – Pre-boarding

Successful pre-boarding for software developers often begins before the first day of work and serves as a bridge between the hiring and the actual onboarding process. After all, no one wants to be stifled by formalities or poor preparation.

Technical preparations are also crucial. Make sure that all necessary hardware and software components are provided and configured in advance. This includes not only the workstation and notebook, but also access to repositories, development environments and other tools that developers will need. That's right, licences are often forgotten here. Easy access to these resources makes it much easier to get started.

The team and superiors also need to be made aware of who is coming and who they will be working with. This is where the choice of mentors and programming buddies comes in. A welcome pack containing both digital and physical materials can also be very helpful. It should contain information about the company, the team structure and the first projects the developer will work on. And honestly, who isn't happy about gifts?

These questions will guide you:

  • Have all the formalities been clarified?
  • What organisational matters can be clarified in advance?
  • What hardware and software is needed?
  • What impression do you want to promote to your new employees?  
  • What do new employees need to know about the company culture, working environment and their colleagues?
  • Fitting Mentor:in / Programming Buddy
  • How do I create a great Developer Journey (we'll come back to this in a moment)

Step 1 - Introduction

Day 1: Ensure new developers are introduced to the company by familiarising them with colleagues, tools and systems.

Continue to give them an overview about

  • the company
  • the project
  • the tasks
  • the goals
  • the expectations
  • the challenges

In addition, all questions that arise from new developers should be answered.

Imagine you are starting out in one of the areas of your company – what questions would you have?

Step 2 - Setup

Next, you need to make sure that your new programmer can quickly settle into the workflow and increase their productivity.

  • Grant access to project management systems with editing rights
  • Grant access to test environments and API keys
  • Grant access to communication channels and private chats
  • Share passwords for internal services and tools
  • If necessary, also allow physical access to certain areas

Also, you can give them access gradually, whenever they need it, in order to avoid initial overwhelm.

Step 3 - Documentation

New software developers need technical documentation to identify best practices and overcome project problems. The most important information includes:

  • Code(base) and databases
  • Code Dependencies
  • Permissions
  • Examples and guidelines

This provides the fundamental and necessary context to successfully launch projects.

All the steps just mentioned are documentation in themselves, which you need to keep updated to ensure that you yourselves, as a company, can also always carry out onboarding efficiently and smoothly. Digital checklists (e.g. within Asana, Trello or ClickUp) for each step have proven to be particularly helpful!

Best practices for onboarding developers

We can optimise the onboarding of developers even further by asking important general questions in advance:

  • What do developers need before they start?
  • How long will onboarding take?
  • How do you set goals to measure progress?
  • What do they need to know about the culture and environment?
  • How do you avoid the common pitfalls of onboarding?

If you answer these questions, you'll be on your way towards extremely effective onboarding. Some other best practices are:

  • Plan pre-boarding activities in the week before the launch.
  • Provide communication and collaboration tools for developers for remote work
  • Automate repetitive onboarding processes
  • Allow pair programming to bring in new developers faster
  • Give developers some autonomy in choosing their first tasks
  • Make sure tasks are clearly defined and achievable
  • Allow time for courses, conferences and skill development for your new employees

With the right preparation, tools and hands-on approach, you can set your new developers up for maximum productivity, engagement and success. But let's take the developer candidate journey one step further.

Create an unparalleled developer candidate journey for high developer engagement

Developer engagement during induction is critical to productivity and retention. Finally, we'd like to share some strategies you can use to promote engagement during these critical first months:

Promote early wins

Look for opportunities for small, early successes that give new developers a sense of achievement. These can be tasks like:

  • Fixing minor errors
  • Creating a simple function
  • Test coverage (tests that fill gaps in existing code are a good start)

Early success shows new employees that they can contribute. It directly builds confidence and momentum to take on bigger challenges. Celebrate these successes publicly to highlight the achievement.

Assign a Mentor

Mentoring is something we have shown before – it contributes significantly to high developer engagement! Provide new developers with an experienced mentor who not only guides them technically, but also encourages them and gives them advice on how to navigate the organisation. The insight of someone who already has experience gives the developers the feeling of being supported. Occasional feedback from mentors keeps motivation high.

Pair Programming / Peer Networking

Developers feel comfortable discussing and debating technologies with like-minded people. Offer connections through chat channels, informal meetings and joint troubleshooting sessions. This fosters a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Provide autonomy

Where possible, give new developers autonomy and a say in their assignments. This gives them the opportunity to take control of their work. Allow developers to occasionally choose tasks from a backlog that match their interests or expand their skills.

Carefully planned tasks

Avoid lack of commitment by setting clearly defined tasks to be completed within a few weeks. Long, vague projects can stifle momentum. Clear expectations and goals keep developers challenged but focused.

Facilitate growth of skills

Onboarding is also an important window of opportunity to develop new skills. Allow time for online courses, workshops, conferences and training modules. Be responsive to the technical interests and growth goals of developers. If you invest in their skills, they will be excited to use them.

Emphasise influence

Help your developers understand how their work fits into the bigger picture and has a positive impact on your users. For example, by sharing feedback from users on a feature they have developed. This creates a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Of course, these actions need to be coordinated within the onboarding program. But an investment in more engaged and productive developers is literally worth its weight in gold. More than that, it continues to build a cultural company foundation that is hard to shake. And ultimately a wonderful place to create great things together.

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