I started at CircleCI HQ in San Francisco as a Solutions Engineer this past August. With a job history of working at much larger companies such as eBay and PayPal, being at a start-up was a big change for me.
And so I found myself grappling with a new problem: how to onboard. I was more accustomed to super structured week-long (or even longer) onboarding formats, which I had found to be dry and data-heavy.
At CircleCI, the culture is very remote friendly. My manager Kevin lives in Seattle and works remotely from there. I have co-workers on my team based out of New York and Colorado. For my first week, Kevin traveled down to the San Francisco office to welcome me and to kick off the onboarding process. It was really helpful to have some 1:1 training time and to get some suggestions on what areas to continue focusing my time on. Solutions Engineers lead the technical implementation and day-to-day management of CircleCI Trials, ensuring early customer success and a long-term business relationship. New hires in this role often start with a week on support duty to help learn the product.
After the newness and excitement of my first week, I felt a little unsure of the best way to soak up more CircleCI tribal know-how. There were plenty of people who could answer any technical questions I might have, but during those beginning days and weeks I didn’t always know quite what (or whom) to ask. Some people had mentioned pairing sessions to me as a possible way to learn from others at the company. I was more used to impromptu scenarios of me asking a co-worker a question and then sitting with them for a while to learn from them on a particular topic. With so many of the knowledgeable support people working remotely I could tell that this tug-on-a-sleeve model might need some updating.
The idea of just pinging people that I had never met before on Slack to ask them to pair with me via video and screenshare while they are doing their work felt a little intimidating for me. How would they react to me asking for some of their time? Would they have even have time for pairing with me? Would it feel odd or awkward to meet and work in this way?
Knowing that this could be the only way I would get to meet this person was what pushed me past my trepidation in order to introduce myself and say hello. And so I began. I reached out to Liene who works remotely from Portland, OR. She responded to me almost instantly and we set up a time to pair that very afternoon. Liene was super friendly and welcoming and I even got to meet her cute cat Mika. (I also learned we have an internal CircleCI Slack channel dedicated to cats!)
Liene was able to suggest some other remote people that I should spend some time with. Feeling some comfort that my first attempt had been a success, I pinged Joseph who works from Buffalo, New York to set up some time with him. Joseph was really good at verbalizing his mental process as he worked through various support tickets in Zendesk. He was generous with his time and we paired a good few times, which allowed me to save up particular questions and specific tickets in order to discuss with him. Another person that Liene recommended for pairing with was Tom, our Support Team Lead who is based out of Ireland. Being from Ireland myself I appreciated connecting with someone with an insight into where I grew up. In turn Tom suggested Tyler, another remote engineer that I could pair with to learn more about how CircleCI uses Zendesk.
And so it went. Each person gave me some insight on the next person, painting a picture of what they are like and their area of expertise. My favorite part of this whole process was just the meeting of each individual person. It was good to see a little of who they were and I felt gratitude that they made some time in their busy day for me.
Having been a part of the onboarding process for technologists at PayPal, I find that I pay special attention to how helpful or redundant the onboarding flow is. I found this more free-form unstructured process to be more authentic. It felt like I was authoring my own onboarding experience as I was the one in control and reaching out. Also, there was a sense of collaboration with the further suggestions I received on who to pair with next.
If you find yourself new at a company where you have a lot of remote colleagues, here are some tips:
1.Don’t be afraid to reach out to the remote people. It is more than likely that they will appreciate the chance to get to know you and that they will be happy to share some of their knowledge with you.
2.Ask them what was helpful for them when they were starting out. Find out what resources they got the most use from.
3.If there is an area you are struggling with or a topic that you are interested to learn more about, let them know. If they aren’t an expert in that area, then at the very least they may know and introduce you to someone who is.
4.It can be helpful to end with asking for any advice or next steps that they might recommend. This could be to reach out to another person for their time or some further reading that had clarified some things for them.