Friday 11 February 2011

Zero-to-coding-hero in 5, 4, 3 ...

Improving the new-starter experience - Part 1

Another new contract, another interesting getting-set-up experience. Let's break down what a developer needs in order to be a productive team member at a new site - firstly, basic/physical items:

  • An Access Pass/Code that allows ingress/egress to the place of work.
  • A Desk and a Chair, preferably close to their new team, if not right in the middle of it
  • A PC with a Functional Network Connection - note an OS is not necessarily required, but a valid IP address certainly is
  • A network login with an email address - something that can at least get through the (inevitable) corporate proxy and receive internal emails

So what can go wrong? Well, the paperwork for the new starter might not have come through or perhaps it's not clear what access the developer needs. A temporary access pass should be sufficient for the first week or so.

Desks and chairs can frequently be in very short supply - if a team is "skilling-up" there won't be a recently-vacated workstation so a degree of flexibility is required in accommodating the newbie. It's extremely important that they can be sited physically close to their team, in particular the most experienced/technically-strongest member(s) so that questions can be fielded quickly and efficiently.

The PC is probably the most interesting point. At my new site they allow developers to set up their PCs any way they like - although practically the OS choice seems to have boiled down to Windows or Ubuntu. This is impressively open - they are trusting that a developer will either not mangle their machine OR that they will be able to fix it if they do!
Of course it's also quite likely that a new starter will be taking over an ex-employee's PC. In that case it would be insane to blow away a known-good configuration.
The other likely (although least-developer-liked) option is a new locked-down, corporate-imaged desktop PC. The same one given to sales drones, secretaries and Milton from Accounts. This can be a real pain if the installing developer tools requires extra privileges! Which brings me to:

The network login - it can take a while to materialise from the bowels of IT. A nice advantage I had with my fresh Ubuntu installation was the complete independence from the corporate Active Directory, Windows domain malarkey. My login arrived a good 24 hours after my PC - but I already had a full Java development environment configured in the meantime, complete with root access. When the login arrived I just put the cherry on top - getting Evolution to access my email account.

So what would be the policy in my Optimal Office ™?

  • There should be a pool of Guest Access Passes at the front desk. These will be replaced as soon as possible with properly-customised access cards for new starters
  • Each team "pod" should always have a spare desk, chair and (possibly-unconfigured) PC available. That way a new starter can hit the ground running. The next desk/chair/PC combo should be ordered/allocated as soon as the new hire is confirmed
  • I certainly wouldn't have a Windows-based network so I'd be advocating Ubuntu desktops all around. They're free, install quickly, support any hardware, you can set them up without knowing any network credentials and there's tons of help available on the net

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