Lyncredible Navigating the tech stack of engineering and management

New hire hacks

Summer time means I am going to help quite a few new grads to ramp up. This is highly important work because the new hires will substantially increase my team’s total throughput over time, but it is also super time consuming. Over the last few years I have learned a few hacks to make the process more effective.

Spin-up buddy

At Stripe, we appoint a spin-up buddy for each new hire. The spin-up buddy is an engineer who is already experienced on the team. They are the dedicated person to help the new hire ramp up. Generally, the spin-up buddy should serve as the information filter for the new hire, so that the new hire can focus on the most important stuff to learn and practice. Specifically, the spin-up buddy is responsible for a few concrete activities below:

  • Create a spin-up guide for the new hire. The guide lays out a tailored onboarding plan for the new hire. It includes the people to talk to, the documents to read, the technologies to learn, and the spin-up tasks to complete. The guide contains concrete week-by-week goals for the first 5~6 weeks, and also sets up some directional targets for the first 3 months.
  • Scope out a few bite-sized spin-up tasks for the new hire. These tasks are typically bugs or tiny feature requests from the backlog. Each of such tasks should be clearly defined and take no more than a couple of days to finish. The new hire can use these tasks to get their hands dirty and to have a sense of accomplishment early on.
  • Mentor the new hire on a slightly bigger project with some ambiguity. The definition of “bigger” can vary, but I generally find a sweet spot in the 2~3 weeks range. This gives the new hire an opportunity to apply their creativity to solving a new problem, which is another milestone worth celebrating for.

To make the spin-up buddy setup succeed, the buddy and the new hire need to work very closely. They can either be physically co-located, or, if working remotely, have frequent async message exchanges and sync pairing sessions.

I have found this setup to be beneficial for a few reasons:

  • It is scalable. The manager is no longer a bottleneck to ramp up new hires. The more already spun-up people you have on the team, the more new hires you can effectively spin up at the same time. The first-ever spin-up guide takes some effort to create, but subsequent ones only cost some incremental time.
  • It gives everyone opportunities to mentor other people. There is no leveling or seniority requirement for the spin-up buddy. They just need to be reasonably familiar with how the company and the team operates. Such mentorship experience is especially valuable for early-career engineers.

Hacking admin tasks

The various admin tasks can be tricky to get right. It is very common for new hires to be missing some arcane permissions or not invited to regular meetings. Below are a few hacks I practice to streamline such admin tasks:

  • Use email groups for calendar invites and access control as much as possible. Invitation to regular team meetings should be sent to the team email group. Permissions to access team resources like shared documents should also be granted to the team email group. This is straightforward to set up in Gmail. If your employer uses Outlook, I believe you can leverage distribution lists or security groups for similar purposes.
  • If your team has multiple email groups, e.g. foo-team and foo-user-newsletter, pick one group (e.g. foo-team) to host all team members, and subscribe that team group to other groups (e.g. subscribing foo-team to foo-user-newsletter, instead of directly adding people to both groups).
  • Use Slack user groups for channel membership. Create a team group and configure “default channels” for the group. Your new hire will be automatically invited to all configured “default channels” once they are added to the team group. This also works for private channels, which are usually annoying to manage. If your employer uses Microsoft Teams, I have no idea how Teams works1. :(
  • Document the various admin tasks in the spin-up guide, and leverage the spin-up buddy to close the gaps.

That is it for now

Do you have any tricks to ramp up new hires? Please let me know. Happy spinning up to all new hires and their buddies!

  1. Despite having worked for almost 6 years on Microsoft Lync, one of the predecessors to Teams, I have not used Teams at all. To my friends at Teams: let me know if this user group concept exists in Teams. Thanks! 

Share via