Freetrade Software Engineering Manager Rokey Ge shares his virtual onboarding experience.
Have you changed your job this year, or are you considering pursuing a new opportunity?
COVID-19 has certainly made any career movement feel more precarious than before.
What is it like to join a new team when we can’t even be in the same room together?
I joined Freetrade as an Engineering Manager in April 2020, just after the UK’s full lockdown started, and since then I have onboarded two more engineers onto my team.
So, I can attest that it is definitely possible to transition to a new job, fully remotely. And with the right support, you too can make your next career move with more confidence.
Let's take a moment to remember how starting a new job used to be: you arrive 1 hour early to make sure you can find the new office building, you check-in with reception in exchange for a key card, you get led in by someone from your team or HR, you shake many hands (!! screams !!), you sit with your colleagues at your screen configuring your new computer, you have whiteboard sessions in a 2-person meeting room, and at some point get taken out to lunch with the team with a drink or two afterwards.
That’s all changed now, as such face-to-face interactions are all deemed not COVID-safe.
These days, the first days at a new job can seem very impersonal.
For me, the day before I joined, a courier arrived in the morning to take my old Mac away, and another courier arrived an hour later and delivered me a new Mac. (There should really be a way to share laptops like the Current Account Switching Scheme).
I was prepared to spend my first day basically alone, just me and the machine. But I was not alone - I was emailed ahead of time with the easy instructions on how to set up and log in. And before I knew it, I was ushered and introduced into at least five Slack channels. I even managed to join the morning standup in time to greet my teammates on Zoom and got assigned a first task to pair up on.
The handshakes got replaced with exchanges of emojis; the whiteboard sessions happened virtually without hunting down the right coloured markers; the team lunch and hang became a post-work gaming session. It was different from my first days of years past, but it worked.
Over the next few weeks, some other key things that really helped were:
Documentation can seem like the bane of existence for us engineers, but it is oh-so-useful for remote onboarding. Unlike in the office, it’s not easy to turn around for a quickfire question, and a Zoom call can feel so formal. Freetrade uses an array of tools to make it easier to navigate the “get to know your system” period. We use an internal Stack Overflow for the common Q&As about our systems; Google Docs for RFCs and design docs; Notion for pretty much everything else. We even have a page on Notion to answer any questions about "how to document the documents.”
Pairing is very pivotal in bringing an engineer up to speed. We are not very militant on “pairing on every task”. But for the first few weeks, we encourage new engineers to pair on a variety of tasks with everyone on the team. There is really no better way to show a new engineer the ways around the new environment. It is also great to let the team learn from each other how they work, so our engineers can improve together and bond through problem-solving quests. It may seem like a trade-off in terms of productivity, but I would recommend every team try it every now and then. It’s good for the soul of a team.
Over-communicate! This is one thing I asked my team to intentionally practise while we are all working remotely. It’s easy to assume the new guys are doing well, unless you go out of your way to check up on them. Similarly, it’s easy for others to assume you are settling in, unless you pluck up the courage to ask that question in Slack or Zoom. When working with the principal of “assuming best intents," the team is encouraged to talk through things out loud. Turning to our team's Slack channel to ask for help when I'm stuck has saved me so many hours of pain. I know there are those of us who are a bit more introverted and that this is a big ask. It will take practise and a bit of trial and error, but it will definitely help you and the team, so the effort will be well worth it.
I only met my teammates in person after three months of working together (when the lockdown eased a little over the summer). But by the time we did meet face-to-face, it all seemed so natural, apart from discovering some people are much taller than you assumed based on the view provided by Zoom!
My team grew by more than 50% while we were under lockdown. We’ve recently shipped a few long requested features like MWRR, TWRR and stock fundamentals and it's great to see that customers love them!
We are still learning and sharpening our tools so that we can onboard every new recruit better.
If you are interested in anything on our Careers Page, why not reach out and join us?
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Freetrade is a trading name of Freetrade Limited, which is a member firm of the London Stock Exchange and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England and Wales (no. 09797821).