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How to Make an Impact as a New Hire

Congratulations! You've done the hard part and you've just been hired for a new role. You're excited about your first day of work. You get in bright and early, you do the round of hellos and introductions and you complete your environment setup. Now what?

Hopefully, your team will have an onboarding plan ready and their expectations for you should be clear. And if they don't? We'll cover some topics that will come in handy so you don't find yourself set adrift.

Help Me, I'm New! #

For most people, the early days at a new job can be a teeny bit anxiety-inducing (well, at least for me). Lots of names and faces to remember. new work habits to internalize and a whole new job to learn. On top of all this, you also need to learn the new work rhythm. Each organization has its own work rhythm (including within different teams) and learning this is needed so that you don't feel out of sync with your team's contributions.

Learning this rhythm takes time. Having an onboarding plan to follow along to makes learning this rhythm, easier. Without this, you're constantly asking yourself questions like whether you're doing enough or whether you should be doing something else.

Just to be clear, I'm not even talking about reaching full productivity at a new job. According to research carried out in 2012, that value can range anywhere from 3 months to a year.

Anecdotally Yours #

Goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway), most of this post applies to technology jobs as that's what I have experience with - except for a two-year stint in sales at my first job.

I've had jobs with no onboarding process and a great onboarding process and everything in between. Some have been quite extensive with an 'academy' and being embedded in different teams to gain a more holistic view. And some others have been nothing more than "Here's your desk, let's get to work!". After all of these jobs, I'm yet to be completely useless in the first few weeks. So let's talk about some of the things that helped me.

A cartoon image of a many armed person juggling lots of work tasks at the same time Still working away

First Steps as a New Hire #

I'm not going to cover the basic things like grabbing coffee/lunch with your colleagues and talking to everyone who even slightly glances your way. This is more about the technical side. In no particular order.

Manage Your Own Expectations #

Most of us aren't working for Facebook, so it's unlikely you're going to be pushing code to production on the first day. Sometimes it can take a few days (or weeks) to get to a point where you are pushing some simple code to a repository. But keep in mind that pushing code isn't the be-all and end-all of work.

As long as you're learning, you're contributing to the team effort. Accept that there is going to be a ramp-up time. This is the investment in yourself that you're making so that you can take off somewhere down the line (on average, 8 months down the line).

Dogfood Your Product #

This is applicable if you're joining a product company. You can learn a lot by looking at the knowledge base for your product and clicking around. Try to learn as much as you can about how your customers use the product.

I also sign up for any product webinars or training sessions carried out by the customer success team. This is a great way to learn more about the product and how your customers will use it.

Read Everything #

If your company maintains a wiki or a document repository, then you're one of the lucky ones. Go through everything. Start reading the topics you recognize and then keep expanding it.

Read the documents. Read the comments left in the documents. Read the meeting minutes. Read old chat logs. Read everything.

It's all very useful and it'll give you a sense of the team and what kind of things they find important. Hopefully, your team will be at least part-way competent and it should have technical documentation about the product and past design decisions. You may not understand the full context right now, but read it all.

Generated image of a person with a magnifying glass looking at a sheaf of papers Read whatever you can get your hands on

Review Old Pull Requests #

When you have no easy path into a code base, reviewing old PRs is a good way to get bite-sized chunks of context. Open up the ticket that's linked in the PR, and pray that the ticket content is more than just "do the thing". Once you have the context, go through the code in the PR and have a look at the comments left in the PR. Again, this will help gain further insight into your team.

Speak With Your Manager #

Hopefully, you're not going to get hired and then put on the back burner. Most companies will want to make sure their new hires are ramping up to speed in the best way possible.

However, if you don't have an onboarding plan because your manager is busy, it's going to be hard to get a hold of them. But if you do manage to book time with them, the following questions should give you some idea of how you're doing and what's expected of you.

  1. What should I expect to get done in the first month?
  2. How am I doing? Any areas I can improve on?
  3. X and Y are what I am currently doing, should I be doing something else?

Beyond The Early Stages of Your New Job #

Let's say you get through the first few months and you've found your sea legs at the new job. There are still a lot of unknowns, but you've started contributing by working on features or fixes. This is when you start looking at ownership.

This can take the form of becoming an expert at a certain feature or even owning a small corner of a much larger system. Since I'm a back-end engineer, I usually start focusing on individual services or some overarching feature of the system and start learning everything I can about how this part of the system connects to everything else.

You can also hit this objective by being the lead developer for a new feature being added to the project. Since this is a completely new feature, you'll have fewer legacy issues to deal with (you'll still need to deal with integration issues though) and you should be in a good position to know everything there is about this particular feature.

Always Be Communicating #

ABC. Always Be Communicating. If you're lacking direction, trust your previous experiences and do things that have an immediate (or sometimes, delayed) impact. The worst thing you can do is sit on your hands and wait around till someone comes along and points you at something. The company has already hired you, so they see something in you. Show them what you got!