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How to Onboard New Hires Like Top Tech Companies

Jan 28, 2021

Congratulations! You've successfully closed a candidate, and you have a great new team member joining. The work doesn't end at this step — now you have to get them up to speed with your company's culture, vision, and operating cadence. This isn't a "first day" event. It's a process that takes several months to a year.

We've gathered four case studies with tactics and tips on how tech companies have succeeded at keeping that momentum and onboarding new hires, and we've provided a few other quality links for further reading on this topic.

Tech Company Case Studies

Netflix

There's a great Quora post from Poorna Udupi, a former Netflix engineer, where he shares details about Netflix's orientation.

Here's a full copy of his post - it's short and seriously worth a full read.

Q: Which tech company has the best new hire on-boarding program and why?

A: Netflix

  • I was given the offer letter at the end of my second round interview. You can imagine that all the folks involved with the interview had already discussed on a "Yes/No" and the compensation package was printed out!
  • My laptop choice and configuration was asked of me on the phone (before joining) and was ready on my desk the day I arrived.
  • I requested a desktop workstation server over a self-serve portal. The next morning a brand new ThinkStation was humming under my desk with a note from the IT team that said "We assumed you wanted the latest Ubuntu. Please advise if not". No BS approval process!
  • A dedicated mentor was assigned to help me bootstrap for the first couple of days.
  • My first code checkin and production push was in the first week of joining.
  • My first production outage handling was also in the first week of joining.
  • An orientation program to explain the Netflix technology stack and introductions to ever-helpful coworkers made my life as a software developer super easy and exciting.
  • An orientation program with all the executive management including Chief Product Officer, Chief Finance Officer and Chief Executive Officer in the first quarter helped to orient me with the company's ethos and aspirations.
  • CEO Reed Hastings also meets with new hires within the first quarter of joining in a small informal group setting to get to know each other.
  • New hires are given significant responsibility and can have a solid impact from the get-go. My first product was Netflix on AppleTV. 4-months after joining, I saw my work being used by tons of Netflix customers.

There's a few takeaways that really stick out from this:

  • Netflix welcomes new employees with their full desk set-up - personal laptop and all - on day one. New hires don't have to worry about waiting for approval to get their preferred laptop or setting up the developer environment - they can hit the ground running.
  • They provide a dedicated mentor for the first few days. This is a common tactic that successful companies use for onboarding, and it's easy to set up.
  • New hires start working right away, and start on an exciting product that will ship fast, so they can quickly see the impact of their work on the company and its users.
  • New hires get exposure to the overall company strategy from top executives, like the CEO. This isn't quite as cool if you're a small startup, but it's still important that new hires get to hear from the entire leadership team and not just their direct report.

Google

Google has ~100,000 employees, so individual teams handle their onboarding process differently then share best learnings. In this process, they found one small change that accelerated time-to-productivity by 25% across teams, and can apply to a company of any size.

It's very simple. A few days before a new hire joins, HR emails their manager with a reminder that they should:

  • Discuss the role and responsibilities to the new hire
  • Find a peer buddy to mentor them
  • Introduce the new hire to the rest of the team
  • Check in with the new hires once a month for the first six months
  • Encourage open dialogue

They don't force anyone to do this. But, by sending this nudge a few days before the new hire starts most managers follow these steps anyway, and have time to think about them over the weekend.

A lot of companies run some kind of buddy system for new hires, because it works. Here's how Google actually gets the most out of this system:

  • The buddy system is opt-in, so no one is forced to take on the responsibility.
  • The buddy's primary role is to be their "go-to" person for any questions the new hire has that they might not want to bother their boss with.
  • The other major buddy responsibilities are to introduce the new hire to existing team members, explain communication/workflow procedures, and run casual monthly check-ins. This also shifts some pressure away from the manager.

Zapier

Brian Cooksey, an engineering manager, wrote down Zapier's playbook for onboarding new engineers on the company blog. It runs from Day 0 all the way to "4 weeks and beyond" post-hire.

Zapier has been a 100% remote, fully-distributed team since before COVID-19, so their playbook is now getting adopted as other companies switch to partially or fully remote.

Here's some of the tactics Zapier uses for onboarding remotely:

  • Before the first day, the manager writes and shares a personalized onboarding doc that lays out in detail topics to cover and tasks to complete for the first week, and includes a less detailed game plan for the following couple weeks.
  • They also schedule calls with their future team members, and short (15-30 min) calls with other departments so the hire gets a sense for life outside their team.
  • One of the first things they cover is how/when to communicate. Since many people are working remotely for the first time, they've found it's important to get people used to their standards of sharing information.
  • Within the first five days, a new engineer ships something small - like a minor big fix or a tiny feature. This gives a sense of completion, excitement, and brings them through their full workflow.
  • They have their team members teach the new hire things in their area of expertise.
  • By week 2, they're getting bigger projects to focus on solo, and by week 3 they bring them to "support school" to answer technical questions for customers or fix issues in Github.
  • Finally, there's a week-long in-person component in Week 4 where they fly new employees to an AirBnB with their managers and with the executive team, including the CEO.

Facebook

As Facebook grew to 150+ employees, they started a 6 week long engineering bootcamp in an attempt to make onboarding more efficient. What they found was that it massively increased camaraderie amongst the new hires, and they've continued to run the program since it started in 2008.

There are great lessons and tactics in how they run it that can apply for companies of all sizes:

  • As soon as the bootcamp begins, participants are assigned a dedicated mentor who checks their work. Checking work is important, because Facebook lets them ship small fixes to their 1B+ users within 45 minutes of the bootcamp starting.
  • New engineers are brought on as generalists, and have access to the entirety of Facebook's code base. They get to work with different teams, and at the end of the bootcamp they decide what products they want to work on.
    • At a high level, they use onboarding as a chance to let employees ID their strong areas and interests, then give them a chance to work on that instead of pigeonholing them to certain responsibilities right away. This is something a lot of companies don't do, but should try.
  • Bootcamp helps new hires build a network amongst their cohort and with other teams, which builds camaraderie and gives them places to go if they have questions.
  • Bootcamp has a curriculum. Participants get specific classes on all aspects of Facebook - from their company culture to the code review process. For smaller companies, this can be replicated by careful documentation of processes, and even videos from the leadership team where they explain key topics.

There's valuable insights in Facebook's strategy even if you're not at the scale where a full-fledged military bootcamp makes sense. Most importantly, the bootcamp gets new hires pushing out code right away, and connects them with mentors and their peers. It's not easy to build strong fellowship in a giant company, but Facebook does it well.

Additional Resources

Netflix, Google, Zapier, and Facebook all run best-in-class employee onboarding programs, which is why hiring managers and CEOs are copying parts of their playbook. For more on this topic, here's a few high-value resources:

Efficient Employee Onboarding Processes: A Case Study

How to onboard a new hire remotely

8 Best Practices for Onboarding Technical Employees

9 Chicago Tech Companies Share Their Experiences With Remote Onboarding


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