Reflections on the onboarding experience

May 15, 2008 – 9:48 pm

I’ve been through three first weeks with various companies (Proficient, Amazon, and now VMware) so the experience of joining a new workplace has become somewhat old hat[0]. I’ve found, in my vast experience[1], that the first week (or so) does a lot to set the tone of my tenure at a company.

With Proficient there was a bit of awkward feeling each other out and then finally being given a few bugs to fix and some time to learn JSP’s. After that I was given a whiteboarding session to explain the architecture and a project to work on and told to ask for help as needed[2]. Proficient was small and composed mostly of Tech grads, it still had the startup feel so you had to pull your own weight and everyone knew it. It was a demanding but rewarding place to work—I still think back on those guys and feel that I had a lot to learn from them (and still would if it hadn’t been bought out). The rest of my time there was a mixed bag of real projects with awesome multithreading work to build out a portion of the major feature for our next release and months of unending bugfixes and general nothingness.

Amazon was… the same, but different. The first day was ~4 hours of orientation with other new hires (one of which was my manager) and then I was handed off to my team for position specific stuff. There’s a company wide bootcamp to read and you’re encouraged to ask questions to your teammates as they arise. The bootcamp was super dry and mysterious (I’m doing what? why?) and took about a week to get through. I had questions but it’s hard to ask them when you’re not even sure how to frame them, especially when your teammates seem so busy[3]. After I “finished” bootcamp I was put on a totally random project that was unrelated to the stuff I had just read about and that I never really understood. Sure enough, the rest of the year there can pretty much be summed up by “scope creep”, and “never really understood”. My second project was a hacky script that stayed with me until I left and meant weekend/late night work. The third bit of development I did was a modification to code that exploded out from under me, I didn’t understand the system really and it was scoped to be much smaller than it turned out to be. I never really got any sit-down time to get stuff explained to me, it was all just kinda figured out on the fly… sorta.

And now VMware. Compared to Amazon this has been … as smooth as silk. Day one was 8 hours of mind-numbing orientation but the next two weeks contained 4 solid days of a real live person teaching us about various parts of the company and my team has given me a high level view of the workstation (ui) architecture[6]. Even better, I’m been handed two smallish bugs that have gotten me in and playing around with the code. The folks on my team are nice (and also really clever[5]) and I’ve already checked in two (super minor) bug fixes but it’s feeling good. I’ve pretty positive about this summer based on week one, we’ll see what happens.

This has been a super rambling post, you’ll have to live with it as I haven’t the patience to edit it for coherency.

[0] it’s still pretty terrifying though
[1] sarcasm was dripping off that
[2] this became a trend in all the places I’ve worked, here you go, let us know if you need help — it’s rather a double edged sword
[3] don’t get me wrong, the guys[4] I worked with at Amazon are absolutely amazing and after I got to know them I was totally okay with asking for help when appropriate, it’s just hard to do when these scary smart guys you don’t know are heads down in code.
[4] I still list Tom and Brian as the single most amazing folks I’ve ever been around
[5] can’t tell if we’re going to have to add more to the Tom/Brian list yet
[6] admittedly, a good bit of it went over my head

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