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On teaching new team members

Posted on:August 10, 2020

Teaching new colleagues is an essential skill for any team. It’s crucial to ensure that newcomers feel welcomed and become useful members as quickly as possible. From my experience, there are two main approaches to teaching new colleagues: baby steps and big leaps.

The baby steps approach involves teaching new colleagues small tasks from different parts of the system. These tasks are usually one-liners, new methods, or small fixes that help newcomers understand various parts of the larger system. This approach can be useful for both junior and senior developers, as it allows them to learn at their own pace and build confidence in their abilities. Over time, they can connect these pieces together and understand the whole picture.

The big leap approach involves letting newcomers build something by extending some part of the system or refactoring an existing part. This approach can be more challenging, as it requires a greater understanding of the system as a whole and the ability to come up with complex solutions. However, it can also be more rewarding, as it allows newcomers to take ownership of a specific area and make meaningful contributions to the team. This approach is often more suitable for senior developers who have a greater understanding of the system and are looking for more challenging assignments.

The choice between these two approaches depends on the skill level of the new member. Senior members may quickly become frustrated with a lot of small tasks and need more challenging assignments to stay engaged. On the other hand, junior members may benefit from smaller tasks that are important but not business-critical, which allow them to learn and grow at their own pace.

Regardless of the approach, it’s important to provide support and guidance to newcomers. Regular check-ins can help them stay on track and answer their questions. When answering questions, it’s useful to take a coaching-oriented approach by asking for their own opinions first. This can help you better understand their thought process and guide them towards solutions more effectively.

It’s also important to balance the difficulty and size of the tasks assigned to newcomers. Tasks that are too easy may not provide enough challenge or learning opportunities, while tasks that are too difficult may be overwhelming and discourage them from making progress. A good approach is to assign tasks that are important for the team but not business-critical, allowing newcomers to tinker and make mistakes without causing significant harm to the system.

In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching new colleagues. It’s important to give newcomers space to learn at their own pace and avoid micromanaging them. With the right balance of guidance, support, and appropriate tasks, newcomers can become valuable members of the team in no time.