Accelerating Impact

“It’s a lot easier to loosen up some of the structure over time than it is to later go back and inject it.”

Engineering onboarding has become more important as many companies rapidly scale their engineering teams. Companies are starting to realize how much they are missing out by not having their new engineers be productive as soon as possible, instead of relying on ad-hoc methods to bring people up to speed.

This is the one of a ten-part series covering the sessions from Calibrate 2016, an engineering leadership conference held on September 30, 2016 in San Francisco.

Ryan Atkins works on the Engineering Operations team at Dropbox, a team that supports engineers to make them more productive and engaged. As a former high school physics teacher, he understands the dynamics of teaching large groups of people. He also understands how important structure is to successfully set expectations and make people feel secure.

In his talk, Ryan outlines several reasons why onboarding is important: to plan for company scale, to avoid bad pattern matching, and as a useful tool for closing candidates. He also talks about how onboarding can shorten the “time to meaningful impact” for new engineers, meaning the time from day one until being able to make a useful contribution.

As far as improving an existing onboarding program, he suggests to measure something you’d like to optimize for (time to first commit, time to first feature in production, etc) and then iterate on the program and see how the measurement changes.