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Junior engineers are a great addition to any team. But like planting a seed, leaders need to provide them with the right soil and environment to flourish.
Throughout my career, I’ve helped to create environments where junior members can be the best possible version of themselves. Here I’m sharing four ways to invest in your junior engineers, from nailing the onboarding experience and creating a learning culture to supporting them with leadership and a wider network.
1. Provide an awesome welcome experience
Junior engineers should be welcomed to the team with open arms. Here are a few ways to enhance their experience:
- Meet with them before their first day, perhaps for lunch or coffee. The goal is to put their mind at ease around what they can expect on day one. First days are always nerve-wracking; reaching out beforehand can be a big help.
- Send a welcome message and take a picture of their boxed equipment on their desk before they join. This will build their excitement and show that you and the team are excited too.
- On their first day, consider presenting them with a digital welcome card from their team and their favorite sweet treat (which you’ll need to find out in advance). This helps to create a bond which is required for team working.
2. Build a learning environment
For new members to grow, they must be able to learn new skills. Here are some ways to help juniors learn:
- Great documentation: this is a way for new team members to get up to speed. Each new member who joins can also take the time to improve the documentation for the next member.
- Communities of practice (CoP): these are sessions where learning can take place across different teams and functions – similar to lunch and learns. They really help to level up juniors, allowing them to learn new skills in a safe environment.
- Pairing on problems: pairing allows junior members to learn from senior members in the team. The ability to reach out for support is key here.
- Show and tell sessions to learn the product: these are key to juniors understanding the product. The sooner you do these, the better.
- Internal training courses to upskill: if there are specific skills your juniors are lacking, make sure you fill the gaps with training. Putting budget into this is a worthwhile investment.
3. Set juniors up for success through leadership
A junior needs support to meet their potential. That’s why leaders are key to juniors flourishing. Here are some helpful techniques:
- Frequent check-ins and 1:1s to make sure they feel supported and to resolve any problems. Ask open-ended questions like, ‘how are you feeling?’, and ‘what do you feel is going well?’
- Be clear on their role and responsibilities, as well as who they can reach out to for support.
- Provide a clear plan for what they need to achieve after three months, six months, and twelve months.
- Share a career progression framework to ensure that they know how to get to the next level and what they need to do in their current role.
- Cultivate innovative ideas. Listen to how they believe the team can do better. Can they make any recommendations to enhance onboarding?
- Give regular feedback. The quickest to break someone's confidence is by giving them negative feedback after weeks of no feedback.
- If possible take a cohort of juniors rather than individuals. This gives them a community to aid their progression and enhances the value that the company gets.
- Share useful resources such as blogs and articles which will empower them to lead, even though they don’t have the leader title.
4. Make sure there’s a strong support network
Being left out in the cold with no support as a junior is the worst feeling. It’s one of the reasons some juniors leave technology and don’t come back. There are a few things you can do to provide that essential support:
- A buddy system inside the team: this is where they can get support on the technical aspects of the role as well as more personal issues such as feeling overwhelmed.
- A buddy system outside the team: this is where they can learn more about the business and build relationships outside of their immediate team.
- A mentoring program: this is a great way to help juniors learn from others in the organization on a one-to-one basis.
This may sound like a lot of work, but investing in junior talent is essential, and your company will benefit as well as your joinees. The next time you’re welcoming members to your team, remember that with a strong support system and psychological safety in place, they can thrive.