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Grade your grads

Grad programs are a fundamental part of any organisation’s hiring policy, and for good reason. These programs give you an opportunity to potentially pick out the best of the fresh crop of new workplace joiners. You may just find a developer that shoots the lights out with ‘mad skillz’ or a business analyst that wows you with lightning fast comprehension of your complex domain and a masterful ability to convey that understanding to everyone she works with. But (and yes, there’s always a but) these programs take work and perseverance. The best people don’t just drop into your lap.

The most important thing to realise is that the grads need to be trained which means that someone has to take time out of their busy schedule to do the training. We generally tend to underestimate the amount of time that is needed for this, usually because we think that the grads only need to be trained in the specific skill or role that they’re joining into. We don’t often factor in all the knowledge around the role that needs to be imparted as well the tacit knowledge that most of us have about the organisation and would need to be shared with them for them to truly be high functioning members of a team or organisation. This can take time. A lot of it, and usually from someone that is already dedicated to important work.

Let’s take the example of a grad developer joining a large corporate.

Joining a large corporate can be a daunting task for even a seasoned workplace veteran. Firstly, just finding their way around the building can be like walking through a maze. Someone needs to walk the grad around, showing them how to get around and find the basic amenities.

Secondly, there are so many people involved, so many layers of hierarchy and so many unspoken rules of engagement that navigating your way through (and often around) it can be treacherous. If you want to keep the grad motivated, positive and willing to stay, you need to help them steer through these stormy seas. The larger the organisation, the more time it can take to explain all this, although not every aspect needs to be explained, as it may not all be relevant to the grad.

Next comes the navigation through the myriad systems and complex architecture a large corporate has usually built, bought or acquired over the course of its history. For a developer to be able to function properly, they need to understand the technical landscape, what each system is used for, where to get relevant data, and how to access these systems. Often there are arcane system’s who’s  raison d’etre seems to be shrouded in myth and mystery and only a few gurus can provide the relevant knowledge and access and fix them when they fail. Without giving the grad enough context, they could inadvertently make things worse, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

Then there are the processes, the wonderful processes that are supposed to keep the wheels of the company turning smoothly. The poor grad just wants to get their code running on a web server, but for this to happen, there are change requests to fill out, architecture review boards to attend, and weeks worth of rigorous performance and security testing runs. This can dampen the mood of even the most energetic young grad.

Once you’ve managed to help the grad through all this, you also need to consider that you need a thorough review process in place to allow for regular feedback to the grad on their growth along their journey as well as allowing you to pull the plug if it just isn’t working out. You certainly don’t want to spend too much time and energy on a lost cause. It’s always better to set the expectations up front so that there are no surprises if you have to show the grad the door. With the right coaching you may not need to, but let’s not be too optimistic here, shall we?

So be sober-minded when starting a grad program. Make sure you have the time, resources and people to provide the right support and guidance wherever the grad may need to interact with the organisation. There is a much bigger chance of success with the right support structures in place. But don’t let that stop you from having a backout plan.

3 Comments

  1. Agent P Agent P

    It is worth noting Grad in this context can be replaced with new people. New people experience some of this sort of this madness in any organizations. Every organization have its own hoops to jump through that is only apparent once you are charging down their lancing arena without their required attire.

    Anyway. Grads is extremely important because they will be advocating current ideas and have not yet been indoctrinated in the worlds of over complex systems.

    • songsta songsta

      Thanks for your comment.

      I’m specifically talking about grads that come on-board for a low cost or no cost. You’re basically taking them at risk, hoping that one of them will turn out to be worthwhile bringing on-board permanently. The organizational issues they they face will be the same but the difference will be that there is no guarantee that the time invested in the grads will be worth it. It’s the risk you take.

  2. songsta songsta

    I completely agree with you about grads bringing in fresh new ideas and challenging the status quo. That for me often outweighs the risks.

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