UX Bootcamp - An Onboarding Playbook

I joined Dgraph exactly one week before the COVID lockdown was announced. Starting at an open-source database company with no experience with their tech stack, unable to meet any of the team members, the company laptop stuck in transit, patchy home internet — not the induction I had planned for.

I spent a couple of days logging in remotely, scouring over documentation, and still being unable to make much progress. It was then that I was introduced to a new onboarding plan which the team wanted to experiment with — UX Bootcamp.

TL;DR

UX Bootcamp is a six-week-long induction program in which every new engineering hire spends time with the open-source community helping them use Dgraph and solving their issues. The program is designed to cultivate user empathy among new engineers by putting them in the front line.

Backstory

As Dgraph Labs scales and the engineering team grows, the company constantly feels the need to make onboarding of new hires smoother and more effective. So when it was decided to revamp the induction program the team went back to the drawing board and started to brainstorm. Here were the final identified objectives and challenges.

Objectives:

  • Dgraph Labs is an open-source company having enshrined that in our core values. We want our engineers to be in the front seat with the community and imbibe the culture of creating the incredible user experience.
  • We want new team members to ramp-up learning fast and collaborate with experienced team members so they can start to contribute effectively.
  • We want to promote a culture of helping users and delivering solutions quickly. We like it when our engineers keep their ears to the ground and have a quick feedback loop with the users. We also like it when our engineers tinker around, troubleshoot issues, and experiment with different solutions.

Challenges:

  • Dgraph is a complex project with a large codebase. Understanding different components can be a daunting task.
  • We are a distributed team working across multiple time-zones. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, all onboardings are being done remotely. We have to rely heavily on asynchronous communication.
  • Being a start-up, we are always time-constrained. It is difficult to have week-long dedicated training by senior engineers. Also since we are scaling fast, we have folks joining the team every other week.

We wanted an onboarding process that achieved our goals while working around the challenges we faced.

Enter UX Bootcamp!

What is UX Bootcamp?

UX Bootcamp is a six-week-long bootcamp in which every new engineering hire participates in. During the six weeks, participants engage in community discussions on Discuss and Github. They closely look at new issues being raised on forums and answer user queries.

The mandate is simple:

Help users with their questions.

Our thesis behind this is that all engineers should understand the product from users’ perspectives and develop user empathy. As a by-product, we set our engineers on a fast-track learning curve where they learn setting-up Dgraph in different environments, across different builds, troubleshoot problems, design queries, produce small datasets to identify bugs and file issues which need to be tracked or escalated. During these hectic weeks, they scour tutorials multiple times to find answers to users’ queries and identify gaps in our documentation. They talk to senior engineers across teams who are familiar with relevant codebases. They also pair-up among each other while solving issues, experimenting, and debating different approaches.

The playbook

Quite naturally, any new team-member is apprehensive about becoming the spokesperson or troubleshooter for the product which they themselves are still getting used to. But that is where the fun is. Our community is welcoming to newcomers and each discussion becomes a collaborative experience. Personally, I was hesitant to answer users unless I was sure of the correctness of my answer. But within a few days, I realized that by collaborating with other bootcampers, I could quickly identify the solution. Also, it was okay to be wrong, the idea of open source is that you can always iterate and come back with a more refined approach after more research.

In order to facilitate the process we came up with the following:

  • Assigning one mentor to each new joiner who can guide the mentee in the right direction, code snippet, doc, etc.
  • Having a dedicated slack channel where boot-campers can collaborate.
  • All bootcampers participate in weekly Customer Support Calls.
  • Weekly check-ins with senior engineers to unblock newcomers if they feel stuck

Results

The results of this experiment blew our minds. Personally, I felt so much satisfaction in answering users and helping the community that I ended up spending more time on the forum than all other social media combined. I spent countless hours on our Discuss forum, read greater than 2K posts, and answered greater than 50 questions from the community. I loved the feeling of being able to help a user, and it quickly became addictive!

Not just that, but the continuous engagement with the community also impressed the Dgraph users out there: one particular thread led to a sales call while the other prospect even called our vibrant community is one of our unique value propositions. This was a tremendous outcome, never had I felt so close to moving the needle for the business growth before. 😃

All the new-joiners in the Bootcamp were thrilled to receive great feedback from the community.

We also saw a consistent rise in our user engagement metrics over the time. The number of new topics created and number of posts shot-up very quickly which is a sign of a healthy and engaging community.

Moreover, the bootcampers improved the documentation, enhanced community posts with FAQs, and became experts in quickly firing-up new Dgraph instances in various environments. The whole experience also catalyzed interaction with senior engineers across teams.

Conclusion

If you are a company with a thriving community and a loyal user base, I highly recommend experimenting with this induction model. Engineers love talking to the users of their products, the community loves the energy of newcomers, a fresh set of eyes over the different aspects of the product constantly refines the user experience and newcomers get a fast-tracked learning experience. Its a win-win-win-win for everyone. Follow the playbook described above and set your new-hires on the path to becoming community champions.

What's next?

Dgraph is still evolving and there's a lot of challenging work to be done. If you're interested in being a part of what we're doing here at Dgraph Labs, give us a shout because we're hiring!

Get blog post to your inbox

Fully Managed GraphQL Backend Service

Introducing Slash GraphQL