David Heinemeier Hansson

May 31, 2023

Start them in the deep end

The kindest thing you can do to a new team member is to involve them in something real and challenging right away. Don't squander weeks of new-job enthusiasm with baby rails and play tasks. Get them into the deep end right from the start.

This doesn't mean leaving them all alone to figure out the culture, the work, and the people by themselves, mind you. Nobody hits the ground running, and everyone needs guidance and mentorship to thrive in a new situation. But it does mean that the context in which you offer that assistance ought to be real as quickly as possible.

For programmers at 37signals, for example, we assign both a buddy and a mentor to new hires. The buddy is solely there to be a friendly guide to the innards of the organization. Why do we do the things we do? The mentor is there to help you reach the bar on quality by showing you exactly where it is through detailed reviews of work.

Thus, new hires rarely spend more than a week getting acquainted with the environment before it's time to dive into the deep end of real work that needs to get done. And I'm perpetually pleased by how often someone shows themselves to be an excellent swimmer right from the get go when given the chance.

Not everyone will dazzle you immediately, and that's okay. Some people do take a bit longer to get comfortable before they can show you their best. But it's still a function of exposure. The more exposure to more challenges, the quicker most people will find themselves familiar with what's required of them.

Or not! It does occasionally happen that someone makes it through even the best hiring process, and still end up unable to meet the bar for what's required to thrive. Nobody, anywhere has a faultless hiring process that can bat a perfect ten out of ten. The sooner you find out that a given hire was a miss, the better it is for both parties.

The worst thing you can do to a new hire is leave them wandering the halls of the organization without something fulfilling, meaningful, and engrossing to do. Everyone worth having on board wants to contribute as quickly as they can. Let them!

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.