Reflections on Remote Onboarding at Ladder

The default onboarding experience for new employees at many companies is terrible. I once worked at a company where some new software engineers didn’t get a computer for a couple of days. That’s only acceptable if when doing some kind of Vince Lombardi inspired fundamentals first program: “This is a desk. This is a chair. Tomorrow we’ll go over where the bathrooms are. You’ll touch a keyboard after 2 weeks.”

Fortunately, remote onboarding at Ladder has been a much better experience! In this article, I reflect on the good parts of my onboarding experience and areas we can improve.

First Day

Ladder’s strategy for new hires is to help them ship something on their first day. Providing new employees with a feeling that they can soon become meaningful contributors helps to soothe those first day of school butterflies. This goal also provides a useful forcing function to ensure:

  1. New hires have the hardware they need to contribute

  2. New hires have access to systems required to ship production code

  3. Someone has come up with reasonable ramp-up task(s)

  4. There are people available to answer questions/help the new employee accomplish their task

Before my first day, I received a brand new macbook pro with 32 GB RAM and quad core i5 processor. Providing new hires with quality hardware from the start signals that you care about their work and are willing to spend a little extra for their comfort. I’m baffled by companies who provide below average hardware to their software developers.

On my first day I had clear instructions on how to access various third party tools and someone to help me through the inevitable snags. With the help of my onboarding mentor, I was able to submit a small UI A/B test PR. The task provided a locus for my typical first day questions around code reviews, CI and path to production. I ended the day feeling like I made some progress.

First Few Weeks

Many engineers joining Ladder have to ramp up on Clojure in addition to our codebase. The chance to work at a Clojure shop was a big selling point for me. However, ramping up on a language and codebase simultaneously has been challenging!

What’s gone well

Ladder has a culture of helping without belittling. My mentor and other teammates are always eager to answer my questions. My team helped set up my development environment and demonstrated their favorite features of Cursive. Pair programming sessions have helped me ramp much quicker than I would have going it alone.

Where we can improve

Ladder eng leverages custom frameworks and tooling in the service of our core goal to make it easy to buy life insurance online. IMO these frameworks do a good job of easing development in the domain we are working in. However, like many in-house frameworks at small startups, ours could benefit from better documentation. Working remotely often means fewer interactions with coworkers which means tribal knowledge does not diffuse as easily. Person to person transmission is inevitably stressed as companies get bigger.

Ladder has taken this feedback seriously and we’ve already made progress since my arrival here. Recent new hires at Ladder have started collaborating with more experienced engineers to document the core functionality of our frameworks. These symbiotic pairings speed the ramp up of the new hire while ensuring the documentation produced is beginner friendly.

Join us!

Interested in working for a Clojure shop? Want to work for a company that subscribes to a sustainable growth and work-life balance philosophy? Check out our careers page.