5 Questions a Software Engineer Should Ask When Joining a New Team

- 4 mins

5 Questions a Software Engineer Should Ask When Joining a New Team

No two software development teams work exactly the same. Within a single company, things can vary considerably from team to team. Joining a new team is usually very exciting, but can also be intimidating if the onboarding process doesn’t include the answers to these questions. In most of my onboarding experiences, these answers weren’t provided for me, I’ve had to seek them out.

In my opinion, there are many more questions you should ask in order to have the highest likelihood of being successful in your new role, but here are the top 5:

1. What do you expect out of me?

In previous roles, I’ve had times where I’ve failed to meet expectations because they weren’t handed to me. Instead of waiting, I realized I needed to start asking for them up front.

Starting out by getting aligned and then staying aligned with the expectations of your teammates, manager, and company are the keys to meeting or exceeding them. Learning to handle and manage expectations is often the highest predictor for success or failure from my experience. Most companies also use goal-setting to manage expectations, but you can invert that and use the expectations to create your goals.

2. What are you struggling with right now?

Software Engineers are usually the best creative problem-solvers within an organization. If you want to deliver an immediate impact, start by finding out what the greatest struggles within your organization are currently and then research ways to fix them.

If the struggles are technical in nature: scaling, reliability, code quality, etc. then start researching ways to fix them OR use past knowledge in those areas to fix them. There are almost endless free resources for nearly all technical areas available on the internet, and usually the right combination of keywords will get you somewhere.

In similar, if the struggles are collaboration or process based, there are also lots of free resources around improving collaboration, communication, or various process issues (code review bottlenecks, for example).

Note that it’s usually not diplomatic to join a new team and immediately start making changes, which is why you should start small and build rapport with one or two other established team members. Then, approach them individually what they think of the idea. It’s possible it may have been discussed already or thought of, or they may point out something that you may have missed.

But if they like it, congratulations - you’ve just got buy-in! If the team environment is very open and non-judgemental, you may be able to suggest it directly to the team, or you may want to ask that person directly for sponsorship. Sponsorship is a great way to execute on your ideas, as that person is effectively joining your cause.

3. How do I build/run/test/develop locally?

As an engineer, it’s important to know how to build, run, test, and develop your projects locally. If this was missing in your onboarding documentation, you’ve just found an immediate way to make an impact- start creating the documentation for it. This will save the business time, effort, and costs down the road whenever any new employee needs that information.

4. Where is the documentation located?

Whenever you are looking for information: technical, project, teammate, communication, process, etc. you should always know where to start looking for it. You might not always know where to end up looking, especially if the business doesn’t have a single established place for documentation, but as long as you can get started, you’re then able to safely ask someone else for that information if you don’t find it. If your new company or team don’t have a single established documentation place, that’s another great suggestion that you might need to buy-in for from an existing senior leader who can sponsor that effort.

Documentation isn’t limited to Wiki, many companies use Slack or similar platforms for communication, which can serve as great documentation on decisions, technical questions, historical context on projects, etc. Ideally, you have multiple places you can find information at before asking someone else.

5. Who can I contact for help?

New employees should always have a place they can diquestions, some seemingly extremely basic, even for senior/staff/principal level new-hires. When you need information or clarification on something, you should always have a place you can direct that question to - your manager, an onboarding buddy, a senior teammate, etc. Ideally someone established enough to either have the answer or know someone who might have the answer.

This is particularly important for new engineers who might lack the network, confidence, or communication skills to get themselves unstuck or to solve a problem for themselves.

Summary

Joining a new team is an exciting opportunity for most engineers, but it’s going to be a time filled with learning and ambiguity. Hopefully, these questions can help with the onboarding process and your chances of success for you in your next new role.

Randy Kinne

Randy Kinne

Software Engineer

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