Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

How I Onboard

2023-08-07 — Michael Haupt

When I started my current job at Quandoo in May 2022, some people inside and outside the company asked be how I go about onboarding. Responding to the question, I realised I was following the same approach that I had followed at the previous job, so there seemed to be a repeatable process. Here's how I do it.

The onboarding proceeds in four waves. Naturally, like waves do, they overlap and aren’t discrete steps I take one after the other.

Wave 1: People. The company consists of people. It’s people who do the work. They’re the most important part of the company. Trust-based relationships between people are what makes everything - work, and more “social” aspects of being at the same company - much easier and enjoyable.

I make an effort to very quickly start meeting literally everybody in my organisation, and that strictly includes people not reporting directly to me. I’m here for them as well, even if we don’t interact directly, so they’re as important for me to at least know as my direct reports. Also, I quickly meet and establish meeting cadences with key partners in other parts of the company.

Wave 2: Product. What do we actually offer? What do our customers care about? How do we identify what’s important to deliver, how do we prioritise and plan our work? This is not just about the product as such, but also a lot about the process we use internally.

To learn this, I engage with Product leadership to get an introduction to the product itself. Ideally, if possible, I also get test accounts, as well as access to the backend tools in use, so that I can connect the dots between all the things. I also talk to engineering leads about their teams' work and to POs, PMs, and Scrum Masters about ways of working, planning, and prioritisation.

While I do this, I consciously remind myself that during any stage of this, I’ve still barely scratched the surface. After all, this is onboarding, not experience - it’ll take me much more time to fully “get” everything. The good thing is that I know whom to talk to if I have a question (see above for Wave 1 and why it’s important).

Wave 3: Technology. How does everything work? What programming languages, frameworks, test and deployment strategies, infrastructure setups do we use? I’m not working as an engineer any more, although I remain one by heart, so I’ll be very interested in getting a decent understanding of all the things from high-level architecture to actual code. I’ll go as far as to try and make serious attempts at cloning repositories and running parts of our product on my laptop. While I’m not going to be spending much time coding, I still want to understand how it all fits together.

To that end, I try to find and read documentation, and where that doesn’t exist, talk to folks from engineering at all levels liberally. I’ll try to find whoever is the best person to share some knowledge, and ask them to share it. All that happens with great respect for people’s calendars and time management. I know interruptions are unhelpful, so I try to minimise them.

Wave 4: Backlog. What things do I need to drive personally? What projects should my org take up in the near future? What is the relative importance of all of these, in what order should we tackle them? The three waves above are all about me being a sponge. Eventually, I should start contributing and adding some value.

While I collect ideas and observations during the first three waves, the fourth is about turning the observations into action proposals, prioritising them, and then taking action. This, too, requires careful discussion with all the right people - I don’t like going in and breaking stuff just because I’m new and in a somewhat powerful position. In fact, being new means I’m certainly the person who knows least about everything.

Tags: work