A couple of weeks after a new starter joins the company, we sit down and have a very informal chat about how things are going so far. This is the right time to “harvest” the experience because enough time has passed to know how things work in the company, but at the same time, the new starter still remembers how it was in their previous one. And that’s exactly what we need. Many of us have been here for a long time and need a sense check of things we do right and things we should improve. Over the last couple of years since we started this practice, there’s one topic that’s repeated almost every time: the buddy system. Those who know what it is can probably skip the next paragraph as I dive into what it means.
The buddy system involves coupling a person who’s just joined the company with someone that’s been there for a while. I’m intentionally not saying someone senior because, with the speed of growth of a tech company like Mews, you very often guide someone even six months after you joined yourself. This may sound stressful at first, but hey, the ideal scenario in your professional life (and continuous learning) is when you’re both being mentored and mentoring others at the same time.
But it’s not just about putting two people together and telling them that they should be friends now. It’s important that both understand what they are to gain from this venture, the topics and tasks to cover, and overall, what the expectation is so that the smooth inclusion of a new starter into the team, division, department, and company in general, is assured.
The main thing is to ensure that being there for the new starter is part of your job and is equally (if not more) important to opening pull requests, code reviews, etc. Because the sooner the new talent gets up to speed, the better for everyone involved. And at the same time, the new starter needs to know that they’re in no way a bother when they need help or want to ask a question. Of course, it’s always good if you only ask the same question once or if you look for answers online first, but you get the idea.
So based on all the above mentioned, we were thinking about how to let the world know that having some kind of buddy system in place makes sense and that it’s valuable and highly appreciated. We asked four buddy couples (well, one of them is alone here, but has plenty of experience buddying) to share their stories with everyone. We didn’t want to edit the texts too much so that you read real stories by real people. Each of the couples took a different approach, so the following testimonials are diverse, but you’ll still find things that repeat themselves, which, ultimately, I don’t see as a bad thing.
Markéta & Jane, Data Analysis
Markéta is already a veteran data girl who joined Mews back in April 2019. Jane is still quite fresh, having had her first day in December 2021. They both work as data scientists in the B2B family of product teams.
Markéta’s point of view:
- Building a relationship with your colleague, it’s much more personal.
- You get to spread and pass on the culture.
- You get to learn more about the work as you explain it to someone.
- What helped: regular catchups and bi-weekly meetings.
- A simple “How are you doing today?” can be helpful 😊 – the mentee can feel lost and it can keep their morale up.
- Overall, it’s a rewarding experience to see someone become better, get more confident, and gain experience.
Jane’s point of view:
- You can ask all kinds of questions. The fear of asking a “stupid” question fades away when asking a friend/buddy, rather than asking a whole team.
- Quality knowledge sharing. You feel that the buddy really cares for you and wants you to succeed as if you’re their sister or kid. ☀️
- Less anxiety. It helps to keep a curious, relaxed, and focused state when you don’t see your buddy every day, but you know that there’s someone there who can always help.
- Close personal connection. Especially helpful if working remotely. It breaks the “coldness” of the screen and adds a personal attachment to the work. Because with a buddy you not only work but also have fun. ❤️
- A balance between how much time you should spend with the mentee versus leaving them enough space to breathe, learn, and explore on their own (you don’t want to micromanage them but at the same time, you want them to learn fast).
- “If you’re struggling with something for X amount of time, ask instead” – the balance between learning on your own/asking for help – it can “unlock” the person that might end up struggling with something for an unnecessarily long length of time.
Jakub & Lůca, QA
Both Jakub and Lůca are great examples of career switchers. Jakub joined us in November 2020, leaving behind a career as a professional athlete. Lůca is a Czechitas Digital Academy alumna of last year, having previously been an editor. They’re both QA engineers in the B2B family of product engineering.
LŮCA: What was the first thing you thought about when you found out you were going to be a buddy?
JAKUB: OMG :D, poor him/her.
LŮCA: Nice :D, but seriously?
JAKUB: I knew it was going to happen as this was one thing I remembered when I joined Mews myself, that every new starter would eventually become a buddy. I was just insecure about myself as my buddy was Mike Diaz, who did an amazing job. So, I hope I lived up to the expectations, but that’s a question for you, isn’t it?
LŮCA: I think you did an amazing job. When I joined, I was really nervous because I was switching not only to a new company but to a completely new field for me as well (switching from publishing to tech), so having someone to talk to from the beginning was a big relief.
JAKUB: So, what were your thoughts in the first week or two while being on calls for half the day just listening to new stuff?
LŮCA: Oh yeah, the covid restrictions were in place when I started, so we couldn’t even meet in person. But I think we managed well. Obviously, it was quite a lot to absorb all the knowledge, but the whole QA team was really helpful, and I felt welcomed and that I wasn’t pushed to learn everything at once. But I was curious and had lots of questions, did it bother you?
JAKUB: That’s part of the buddy job – being there for the new starter. I remember I was asking about something all the time, which turned out to be completely obvious and stupid. As far as I remember, we always made some kind of compromise that when I was busy, I gave you some topics/tasks to look at, but always tried to respond and help in a reasonable time. So, it didn’t bother me by any means. In the end, it’s always about cooperation.
LŮCA: Yeah, it was good that there was stuff I studied independently, but could reach out when I got stuck at something. I also enjoyed that, apart from Slack calls, we managed to use different tools to make drawings and explain things in an interactive manner.
JAKUB: Is there something you would want me to have done differently?
LŮCA: I wouldn’t change much, but once we could finally meet in the office, I could see how much more efficient everyday communication would have been. But even with this challenge, I felt that I could reach out anytime. If there was one thing I learned at the very beginning, it was “Don’t be afraid to ask”. And you, would you change anything?
JAKUB: It was my first buddy experience, so I have no comparison. I’m usually very critical of myself. My experience in a sports environment tells me that if I see progress, the teacher/coach (or, in our case, buddy) is doing a good job. For me, it’s important that you felt welcome. You had questions about what to do and how to solve problems, and maybe it will sound a bit narcissistic, but I felt you appreciated the work I did for you. That also gave me confidence and the will to do better. Passing the probation period is a good sign that you did well.
LŮCA: I was so happy learning that Mews wanted me to stay even after the first three months. And even though the early days are over, you’re still here, and I can ask if I have any issues, although I’m not afraid to ask other QA engineers as well.
JAKUB: So, it’s time for you to get ready to be a buddy, right?
LŮCA: I think it’s still a bit early, but the fact that you’ve been in tech for only a year and are already a buddy gives me hope and confidence.
JAKUB: Yeah, confidence. That’s something you should have a little bit more of. I think you have what it takes to be a good QA.
LŮCA: Aww, thank you. More confidence would definitely help both of us. But I can see that you also learned a lot from teaching me.
JAKUB: Teamwork 🤜🤛
|One little linguistic insertion. When we talk about the buddy system and buddies, we have two people in the mix, yet we often call both of them “buddy.” This doesn’t make sense when you want to clearly differentiate the roles. So please, allow me to introduce new words to the vocabulary (I checked the internet, and it seems it’s not there): buddier & buddie. You see my inspiration in e.g., employer and employee. Is it something that has the potential to catch on, or is it going straight to the dumpster of bad ideas? 😅|
Lukáš & Gal, Frontend
We have another recent career switcher here. Gal was a paratrooper and a pilot before he decided it was a good idea to become a frontend engineer. That was last year. Lukáš, on the other hand, has been a developer all his life and joined Mews in June 2019. Starting as an IC, he’s now an engineering manager, and both Gal and Lukáš are working in the B2C family of product engineering.
As a buddy:
I was with the company for a while before I became a buddy for a new hire. It was an interesting experience for me because guiding new hires and helping them get into our processes gives you a good sense of satisfaction. We do have a lot of first-step guides written in our knowledge base platform, but nothing can replace in-person communication and knowledge sharing. It’s good to keep track of the progress of your buddy with regular catch-ups. During the catch-ups, you should track their progress and help them with the parts they struggle with. Help them when they need it, and don’t be afraid to do pair programming together if the new hire is a developer. It improved my communication skills – how to communicate with people more clearly while giving professional and social support. At our company, our buddy program officially ends after the probation period, but that doesn’t mean you stop the process. Usually, by that time, the new hire already has the experience, so regular catch-ups aren’t needed anymore, and instead become more ad-hoc and in a personal setting rather than a professional one.
As a new joiner:
For me, the buddy experience was crucial in my joining Mews. I started working for the company during the pandemic when everyone was working from home, so the social aspect of the job was non-existent. If I didn’t have my buddy, I wouldn’t have felt as strong a connection to my team and would have been lost in Mews’s procedures and best practices. Also, as a junior developer with no experience, my buddy assisted me in the technical aspect and helped me learn the code in a quick and understandable way. My buddy also became a mentor to me after the buddy program finished, and we became friends.
I’d say no real preparation is needed. Being a buddy isn’t proactively pushing new things to the new hire. It’s more about being there for them and helping (leading them in the right direction) when needed.
Tips for making the most out of the buddy experience:
- Communicate as much as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Meet in person, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.
- Talk not only about the professional aspect but also about the personal side of starting a new position.
- For the buddy, when your team plans the amount of work you can deliver, it’s better to use 80% of your usual delivery because being a buddy requires time.
- As a buddy, you need to remember it’s not all about the code. You need to introduce the new hire to the company’s values, principles, and non-written hacks that can be beneficial for their quicker adoption.
- And the most important tip: remember to have fun. We were all new hires at one point. ♥
Benefits for the company:
As we see it, the benefits for the company are accelerating the onboarding process while making new hires more connected to their team and giving them more in-depth knowledge of the company procedures and codebase. The buddy system increases the chances that the new hire will pass their probation period successfully.
Richard joined us in June 2020, and within one year, he upskilled to an engineering manager role while still pursuing his studies. He’s already “buddied” a couple of times, so his story is a merger of multiple experiences. He represents the Platform Engineering team.
Being a buddy
When a new starter joins a company, there are usually a lot of contexts to grasp. Not only in technical aspects (codebase, tools) but also on the organisational level. On top of that, the fact that we’re remote-first (which has many advantages) is not helpful in this aspect. Getting the context and to know people is much easier when you meet in person in offices rather than joining scheduled calls throughout the day.
What do I view as the main goal of being a buddy?
Being a buddy, in my opinion, is primarily there for being literally what the word means – a friend in a new company because it’s challenging and maybe a bit stressful to settle in. So, it’s primarily a “people thing” rather than a “knowledge thing.” Being available for random questions about anything, chatting on Slack about all sorts of things, and being open is really important for people who have just started. The secondary aspect is “knowledge sharing”. When you’re part of a team for some time, you start to think that a lot of things are obvious, but they aren’t, especially for a newcomer, and it’s important to understand this as a buddy.
Ideally, you should help the newcomer understand the context around the whole organisation (how it’s structured, etc.) and the team you work in, such as:
- The team’s main responsibilities
- How the team works on a daily basis
- Which other teams do you cooperate with the most
- What projects you’ve tackled recently, and how
And on top of that, some basic context about each tool you use, including
- Why it’s used
- Why it was chosen
- A hands-on demonstration of how to use it
… can all save a huge amount of time and tedious digging through documentation.
Basically, helping the new person build a solid foundation of context and knowledge. This foundation is priceless going forward – even though it’s impossible to cover everything in detail, knowing “what you don’t know” and where to find more information about a given tool/team is a must.
Some tips for new starters
Ask questions. That’s the single most important thing that you should do. Ask questions about tools, people, teams, projects, roadmap, processes – anything. I see a new person in the team as a sponge – you absorb a lot of information and asking questions that aren’t clear from documentation/code can save you some headaches in the future. It’s, of course, challenging, but hey, on the other hand, you don’t have to worry about anything else. Everyone expects that you’ll take your time, so don’t worry. If it were a problem, your manager would tell you 😉 Final tip: share your opinions and ideas – your fresh pair of eyes is invaluable for feedback on anything you see. For people working in a team for some time, it can be hard to spot some obvious things to improve or change. Your fresh perspective can be great for those. And if you join a company with a good culture, people will listen to and value your feedback.
Are you the next buddie or buddier?
Do you want to find out if the people who appear in this post are real?
Even though it’s Jan Meissner signed under this blog post, you got experience and information from seven of my amazing colleagues. My task was just to publish it. Here we are, so many months after they originally wrote it (shame on me), but it only proves that the ideas mentioned here are universal and maybe even eternal.
Two more things to add from my side: 1. If you want to start a similar activity (or you’re already doing it), make sure that nobody slips through the cracks, that everyone always has a buddy, and it’s rotated within the team who is a buddy. It’s a great experience even for people who feel like they are introverts or that they have nothing to pass on. Those people need it the most to realize that they have so much to say and knowledge and experience to share. And at the same time, make sure that the new colleagues who are more senior get a buddy as well. It’s rewarding and beneficial for everyone involved. 2. This is by no means an engineering team-specific topic. It may have originated in this field, but I truly believe that having a buddy, or however you call it, should be a common practice in all fields and teams. I hope you got some inspiration from these stories. And if you have ever thought about being a buddy or starting your own program, I have one thing to say to you: do it! ✌
Photo © Natalia Bubochkina.