Eight Things Google Does to Onboard their New Hires

Possibly one of the most sought-after companies to work for in the 21st century, it’s no surprise that Google has an awesome onboarding program.

Google hires only the best. Their interview process is notoriously rigorous and that’s if you get past the thousands of other applicants. All of this makes sense — they are a huge player in every niche in tech and have a solid monopoly on the search industry. And they want to stay there. Google can’t afford the unproductive employees, high turnover, or wasted potential that comes with a crappy onboarding program.

1. In-person training (pre-COVID)

Onboarding is particularly important at Google because the inner workings of the company are top-secret, often parodied, and fanaticized. New hires often have a Disney-esque image of their new job. Once hired, these new Googlers or Nooglers undergo a two-week in-person training and orientation program that explains the organizational structure, core technologies and programming practices. Beyond that, senior engineers deliver live lectures on Google practices and culture. during which they talk about their experience and share the “engineering perspective”. This way, higher-ups are better able to establish rapport and reach the Nooglers because everyone shares engineering values and language.

Of course, 2020 has forced Google and just about every other organization on the planet to rethink the physical component to their onboarding process. CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai recently announced that the search giant would have most employees working remotely until at least 2021.

2. Thorough Introduction to Company Culture

A class at Google, Life of an Engineer, is the lifeblood of the onboarding process. It helps developers acclimatize to the norms and and practices that make productive Google employees. For instance, one of Google’s fundamental organizational values is change—something that we can all agree we are more used to these days. Technological and organizational evolution is so rapid that a positive attitude towards embracing new systems and ways of doing things is critical to feeling comfortable and being successful at Google. During the course of the presentation, the new engineers learn their way around available intranet resources, which explain how to become a productive Google engineer. It will come as no surprise that Google uses an internal tool called “MOMA” to serve up these intranet resources through a Google-like search interface.

Other cultural axioms relayed include: “we are all researchers” “learning to find out” and “find role models”. Notice a trend? Due to constant change, employees are advised not to memorize primary information, but rather to understand how they fit into the larger system. That way, a Noogler isn’t left hanging when a process changes. When something changes, instead of worrying, they are confident they can easily find out how to work with the new system or information.

For engineers, a large part of the orientation process consists of browsing the elaborate bank of knowledge the engineering department has created. There are pages for teams, individual engineers, and virtual institutions with courses (see #4). The purpose of the initial class isn’t to relay all the information, it’s to give them an idea of the larger structure and the ability to leverage the knowledge throughout their career.

This perplexity to change isn’t unique to Google. Many growth organizations face the challenge of keeping everyone up to speed in an ever evolving organization. Since MOMA isn’t available to the public, these companies are beginning to leverage knowledge management systems like Obie to provide better access to frequently asked questions and centralize knowledge.

3. Checklists

A company-wide list lets Nooglers know what to expect in the first week to month and beyond. It acts as a reference so developers don’t feel pressured to memorize systems, practices, events and institutions in the first week.

4. CodeLabs

Even the juggernauts hired by Google have to learn how a particular proprietary technology works, so Nooglers attend hands-on tutorials called Codelabs to get up to speed. Of course, these days the Codelabs are held on Google Meet. Presumably a Noogler is an experienced developer so the point of these tutorials is to give them simple tasks to acclimatize to the technology. They’re also used by experienced engineers who wants to periodically refresh their knowledge of different instruments so there’s no shame in attending one. Since Codelabs sometimes lack context-specific information, Google created Codewalks that are hosted by a code’s designer or expert and go over examples and the source code.

5. Seriously, Extensive Resources

Beyond the class, intranet, rookie mailing list, and initial orientation, there is a company-wide glossary so everyone is speaking the same language and a developer handbook so everyone is on the same page stylistically. I won’t give an example here because I don’t want to risk making a complete fool of myself. But to clarify, the handbook doesn’t tell Nooglers not to pair plaid patterns, it determines the notes and hierarchy they code using. Nooglers aren’t required to memorize the glossary and handbook, but everything is there for reference.

6. On-the-job training

The first project assigned to new software engineers is called a “starter project”. The project is supposed to be short (around two weeks) and be a good introduction into a specialized field. Apparently the specialization aspect is less true in practice, but starter projects are low-risk and not overwhelming in the slightest.

7. They have a (functioning) mentorship program

Every Noogler is assigned a mentor who is successful within the company and who has taken a course on typical new hire needs. At first, the mentor is just a friendly face to meet them at the end of their first day and show them the facilities, but their formal relationship spans an average of three months. Google has tried to make mentorship informal, which means some mentors are better than others — and some veteran Googlers have been known to take whole groups of Nooglers out to lunch so they can ask questions.

Google engineers are usually organized in small teams to minimize the complexity of environment. This arrangement allows for close collaborative professional relationships, or cognitive apprenticeships, between the established team members and the rookie.

To overcome the perennial problem that newcomers are afraid of asking “stupid questions,” Google has created NEHEN or “Noogler Engineers Helping Engineering Nooglers,” a dedicated mailing list (although this audit is a couple years old so I’m assuming Google and NEHEN are post-email on this). The list is highly used in the first ten months of a given hiring period: a top poster makes fewer than 10 posts/month, but the list receives an average of 1000 posts per month.

8. They Still Check-in

Even once they graduated from Noogler to Googler, employees send weekly snippets, which are a very short bullet point describing what they did that week. At the end of every quarter, they take part in a self-assessment and set goals called Objectives and Key Results. During the initial orientation lectures, Nooglers create some of these measurable goals, which could be daunting, but the Rule of Thumb is they should achieve 70% of what they set out to do.

Enable one source of truth for your new-hires and level up onboarding by ensuring everyone has what they need to be successful on day one with Obie!