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Developer onboarding for college hires

Published: September 6, 2022

EG: New college grads have some unique concerns that you’re less likely to hear from experienced hires.

First, it’s important to note that this demographic group may feel reluctant to ask questions. They have questions but are less likely to voice them.

In an academic environment, students sometimes feel unsafe raising their hand. They may worry about sounding stupid or unprepared in front of their peers. Some professors convey that they expect students to know the answer already or look it up themselves. These graduates arrive in the workplace uncertain of what questions are okay to ask. Instead of “ask when in doubt,” they often have the opposite reflex: “When in doubt, stay silent.”

As a manager, you want these new college hires to ask questions. You don’t want them making wrong assumptions or guesses that lead to avoidable mistakes. So, one important element in a strong developer onboarding program is reframing the importance of questions.

As an instructor, this is one of the most challenging elements of these programs. It can be hard to pull students out of their shells to build the habit of inquiry. These new hires need to know it’s the industry norm to ask questions, and that the people we view poorly are the ones who don’t ask . . . who aren’t willing to say, for example, “I’m not quite sure how X works.”

Becoming comfortable admitting a knowledge gap is a very tough adjustment for a lot of new college grads. One of the most helpful things you can do as an employer is give them a set of questions they can ask when they arrive on their teams. You want them in the mindset, “If I find out these three or four things, I’ll feel oriented.”