4 tips to ramp-up like a pro
Must do for senior engineers
This is the flip side of the "How to be a Good Mentor" post. These are tips for being a good mentee and ramping up quickly in a new team.
Congratulations on joining your new and amazing team! You have a fresh perspective and likely a lot of excitement (and a tad bit anxiety too). You've been given a few tasks to get started, but you don't feel like you're learning fast enough?
Here are some heavyweight suggestions that you can put on the back burner. They will improve your understanding of your product (API/system/tools, or whatever the team builds and ships).
1. Build customer empathy
Take the time to understand the ins and outs of the product features by using them. Go beyond the simple "hello world" usage. Most teams build something that is used by customers (a different team, a bunch of developers, or actual paying customers). So try to be in their shoes.
Understand the characteristics of the APIs and contract. Examples, error handling, latency characteristics, and corner cases. Look at the top customer requests and get a feel for their priority and relevance.
The existing team members may have developed blind spots that you, as a new hire, can surface.
2. Understand the team
You'll need to invest time in understanding both the technology and the people.
On the tech front, understand the key metrics like SLAs/SLOs/alerts/usage metrics, etc. Also understand what success means for the team in the next 6, 12, and 18 months.
On the people front, pick up tasks that allow you to interact with more team members over time. Learn about their projects. Build a mental model of how different projects contribute to the team's vision. Understand who the key partners and customers are. If you get to join some XFN meetings, get a sense of the tone of the discussion - are they happy or frustrated with us? Either way, try to understand what the team is doing well versus what it is not.
3. Learn about past issues
Past SEVs (incidents) are a great way to learn a lot about your team and the product. From the SEV notes, you'll get to know how the team works well together. Understand how the issue was detected and remediated. SEVs paint a realistic picture of the product's operational maturity and reliability. You will also learn about the system vulnerabilities and upcoming cliffs.
This process won't be easy at first, but once you get the hang of it, it should speed up. You will keep stumbling on new terms that may not have documentation. That is okay - use your mentor.
Learn about past escalations that put the team in a lockdown. Talk to your peers about how they came out of it and even how they felt about it. You will get insights into how various people think & feel about their product.
4. Leverage your manager and mentor
Have a 30/60/90-day plan that captures the key milestones. This gives you, your mentor, and your manager a common benchmark to evaluate your progress.
If you are slowing down, identify what is slowing you down. Is it the new tech stack? Too few documentations on the product? Do you not understand the team vision? Are you blocked on external factors too often and for a long time? Perhaps ramping up on this team is hard, and you can help surface the challenges new hires face.
If you are going fast, then you can adjust your plan to take on more. Your manager should plug you into urgent projects that would benefit from your speed.
Use your mentor as a sounding board. Just talking about how you are approaching your tasks can help you identify risks.
Maintain a list of things you'd like to improve. Remember that you're the new person, so don't rush to challenge the team on everything. You don't want to be the person who only complains. You'll reach a good point soon where you can bring solutions to the team that solve pressing problems.