Work Place Academies: how to onboard new juniors the right way

Academies. Grad bays. Starter squads.

They’re becoming more and more popular these days. I’ve seen so many local companies posting about them.

What are these training bays?

Typically, a company will bring in a fresh-out-of-school grad (and by grad I mean anyone who has not had a coding job before) and set them up in a squad of sorts. This part will vary between companies and how well it has been set up but usually this training section will last three months.

In this first three months they will be with other new starters. If it is set up correctly, they’ll have a mentor of sorts in a senior who is taking responsibility for this new trainee squad. Hopefully someone who’s sole focus is this squad but that will depend on resources at the company.

If they don’t have a senior mentor assigned to them, then typically there will be a plan put in place for that three months. Introductions to the various squads and departments in the company. Tutorials on various aspects of the tech stack and the projects. Maybe even a core project that the squad can work on to get used to real life work.

If there’s none of this and you find yourself in one of these “training bays” with zero guidance then run. If you’re not getting supported in that situation then it’s not likely to improve the longer you spend there.

Are they a good idea?

Like I said, these starter squads are becoming far more common these days and I personally think that is due to the increase junior engineers coming from non traditional routes. I am personally a coding bootcamp grad who changed careers in my late 20s. Others will be in their 30s, 40s, 50s… as coding bootcamps are 3-6 months, you can only learn a set amount. These bootcamps focus on the most popular languages, hoping that any company that hires you will either use that specific tech stack or you will at least join the company knowing how to learn.

That was a big thing at my bootcamp – learning how to learn. Otherwise known as Googling.

However it isn’t just suitable for bootcamp grads. Done right these starter squads can be an amazing starting point for university graduates who will not have any experience working for a tech company. Not real life experience.

And also engineers who may have a few years experience in a different tech stack. A start squad and learning plan can help give them time to pick up the new languages. Maybe not if they are a senior with a decades worth of experience, but maybe those who are a little less confident at being thrown in at the deep end.

But that’s if these starter squads or training bays are done right.

If not then it can be a disaster. A company can lose great junior engineers and those engineers can suffer a big set back by not having a good start.

How can my company make sure we get this right?

  • A dedicated senior engineer who is not only solely focused on this training bay but is also a great teacher.
  • Structure. Where does the company want these new starters to be after three months? If they have been watching tutorial videos for the whole time are they really going to be ready to jump into squad ceremonies?
  • Flexibility. If there is more than one new starter and each one is coming from a different background then no, training isn’t going to be a one size fits all. And remember, just because Gemma the university graduate has a computer science degree it doesn’t mean they will learn quicker or know more than Callum the coding bootcamp graduate or Silas the self taught engineer.
  • Finally companies need to learn from each cohort. Gather feedback. On the materials, the structure, the leadership everything.

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