Onboarding – Raising a cub

This video got my insta-like after I watched it for 5 minutes. It reflected my struggles over 2 years as a master student in Japan. I didn’t get neither tutorials of what software is used inside the lab nor mentors and people to answer or reply back when I find a problem or need guidance.

How hard would it be for a new student who has no experience with Linux to have his first tasks diving through Android and Linux internals right away?

I broke a record in the lab by formatting my PC to reinstall Ubuntu for almost 10 times in 1 semester to recover from crashes I did. The more funny thing is I didn’t even have a person to help me set up a new life in a foreign country. Some of you may know that Japan is notorious about tedious paper works.I was barely able to listen and talk in Japanese. And as you can guess, I did what I can do best in Windows.

I kept pressing next ( saying はい (yes) ) until a process ends.

Although these hardship made me myself in the present day, the way of gaining proficiency can be done in more effective ways. The video shows how important having onboarding process inside a company is in first 16 minutes. The later proposes an approach to onboard a new junior developer.


What is onboarding?

Onboarding is a process of getting new people up to the speed and start delivering value back to a team or a company. Since companies really care on productivity as a reflection of how well they perform,

Productivity = (∑ of talent) * Teamwork

There are 3 things that we want from a freshy who just come joining us.

  1. Productive – Effectively carry on tasks
  2. Independent / Autonomous – Know his company, team and role, and can self-motivated to push forward as a team player.
  3. Confident – An auxiliary attitude that supports both first two. Confident people can perform better in a measurable way.

Adding a talented person to a team may not affect productivity, because it also depends on teamwork. Besides, having more people in a team may lead to decrease in productivity too, as it is harder to coordinate all people to move toward a same direction. Therefore, we need a person who has all 3, a skilled team player who understands his role in his team.

Building a team

In a big image, adding a new person to a company does not affect its culture much. While adding a new person to a small team affects the team’s characteristic a lot. Lesser people means personalities from each person in a group can affect whole atmosphere.

People usually hang out and get along with a like-mindset. People in a team may have gotten along already, but a new person hasn’t. A new person may have totally mindset, experience and background. This makes it hard for a new guy to get a place in a team. But, it is important to embrace this guy to the team, because diversity leads to immunity. A new guy may give disruptive ideas or visions that the current team members havn’t thought of before.

Raising a cub

There are 3 onboarding categories that maps to productive, independent and confident.

  1. Technical knowledge – Productivity
  2. Company knowledge and process – Independent / Autonomous
  3. Personal development – Confident

Technical knowledge is easy to obtain as there are abundant resources on the internet right now. Knowing company knowledge and process is crucial to have a person gets along with the orchestration inside the company. Both of these knowledge may be difficult to obtain if it is in somebody’s head. Developing Knowledge Base (KB) is also an important thing to do as a company gets bigger. Personal development raises performance and develops better working environment.

A place in a team

In order to get a new guy abroad, everyone is responsible for him. Whether he is talented or not, the first thing is to have him in a team. Diversity can be a barrier for both the new guy and current employees. This is why we have ice-breaking activities in camps, schools, colleges and companies tagging who they are to their faces. This allows further engagement. Having regular conversations can help people close together and becoming team players. They can be meetings, coffee breaks or dinners. Throughout conversations knowledge can be seeded in another person.

Someone to ask

From the video, mentoring tasks are better left to sophomores, because they just experienced it before. They (theoretically) still have energy, passion and sympathy not to let the new guy falls into the same pit as themselves. Mentor can aid the new guy getting technical skills and company knowledge, but Mentors are likely prone to overprotect. It is very ineffective to pair 1-on-1 all the time, and they make the guy less confident to act on his own. It is better to leave him to be himself, so that his real performance can be seen, so mentors can guide accordingly.

Further than mentor, there is apprenticeship. He is dedicated himself to a person who is a master of the role he wishes to be. Apprentice may have to do all tedious jobs, but in the end these slowly develop him to be the next master.

Playground

Having sandboxes is good approach to develop skills and confidence. He can be right and wrong on his decisions and doings without affecting his team. In programming, it can be configuring scripts or developing a module. In other jobs, it can be free discussions or brainstorming. However, sandboxes should have their purpose of existence. They must have objective after they are played. It is important to experienced people to help setting the stage up, because they have wider landscape, so they know how to set boundary properly.


I am going to be a doctoral student in the next month. It means that there may be either bachelor or master students to work under my project. I don’t want them to experience the hard way unnecessary as I did in master degree. I wish this article will remind me not being lazy to develop human resource.

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