August 16, 2016
From nczonline.net, with love.

Joining a New Team

Hi everyone,

Everyone joins a new development team at some point in their career, whether it's your first job out of school, switching to a new team at the same company, or moving to a new company. First impressions matter, and a bad first impression can have lasting negative effects on the team and your reputation, which is why your behavior when joining a new team is so important. It doesn't matter if you are joining as a tech lead or a junior engineer, there is a right way and a wrong way to join a new team. 

When I joined my Box, I was told my job was to "fix" the front-end. That was it, everything else I had to figure out on my own, including what the actual problems were and the priority of each. I was to join the already-existing client-side frameworks team who were already working on what they believed to be the best solution for fixing the front-end. I was joining as not just the tech lead of that team, but also of the entire web application. It would have been very easy for me to come in on day one and pointing out all of the problems I saw and start focusing work in another direction. But I didn't.

Doing that would have made me look like an outsider with no real idea about how things were done, and it would have been an accurate assessment. I didn't know anything about the application, the processes, the problems developers were having, or what the current solution was meant to address. Just like anyone joining a new team, I had a visceral initial reaction to what I was seeing (ugh, you use single quotes and tabs???), but I reminded myself that my reactions at that point were uninformed and also normal when being introduced to a new way of doing things. What did I do instead? I waited, asked questions, and learned.

Instead of declaring what I saw as wrong right away, I went and spoke with the other front-end engineers and asked them both what parts of the web application were good an what were their pain points. I did a deep dive with the client-side frameworks team on the solution they were designing and asked them about their transition plan and what problems they were trying to solve. I only offered my opinion when I was explicitly asked for it. And of course, I wrote and shipped code so I could get used to the processes and tools. 

When I finally started suggesting changes, including that we should start over from scratch on a new client-side framework, nearly two months had passed. In that time, I had earned the respect of the team and they were ready to listen to what I had to say. If I had tried to push through these changes earlier, there would have been resistance (and rightly so). But I was playing a long game. Those engineers were much more familiar with everything about the Box web application, and I had to earn their trust, ensuring that they knew I was there not to tear down what they had built, but rather, to help them improve upon it. 

So the next time you join a new team, keep this in mind: wait six weeks before complaining about anything. Different code styles, processes, and tools take a little while to adjust to.Give yourself the time to adjust and learn why things are the way they are.  No matter your position, don't act like the team's savior. Think of your job as adding to and improving what is already there, and after six weeks, you may find that things weren't as bad as you thought. There's no rush, this is a long game. 

Be well.

-N

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