Creating Great Developers: Production

After an extended hiatus, for which I apologize, I’m finally going to wrap up this series with the last 3 entries: Production, Shadowing, and Conclusion.

Earlier posts in this series: “Introduction“, “Hiring“, “Orientation“, “Training“, and “Planning“.

With their plan in hand, the trainee now has 3-4 weeks to develop their internal project. They are assigned a project manager, and expected to treat this project as though it were real client work. This includes checking in regularly to version control, tracking their time, adhering to deadlines, and effective communication of issues to their manager.

They are provided full access to the team in order to ask questions or seek feedback, but are briefed on strategies to leverage this resource effectively without distracting others.

Every week (on beer Fridays) the new hire presents an update of their progress to the entire team. They walk everyone through their code, and ask for input on things they are having difficulties with. This provides the entire team with an opportunity to interact with them, get a sense for their strengths, and provide input on their code quality or approaches. It also gives the trainee experience with managing client feedback and change requests mid-production.

This weekly review is supplemented by ongoing reviews from a senior mentor who will check in every day or two to ensure the project is progressing well, validate their approaches, and do a quick review of their code.

By the end of production, they will ideally have completed coding their project, documented it with ASDocs, fully tested it, and debugged it. The final project is staged, and the trainee presents a full project debriefing which includes an analysis of what went well, what went poorly, and what they would change if they started again.

The senior staff then reviews their progress according to a variety of criteria, including:

  • Adherence to timeline and micro-deadlines or ability to notify management appropriately of non-adherence. Estimating time is hard when you’re new to it, so we expect a lot of inaccuracy. The important thing is that they communicate that back to their project manager in a timely manner.
  • Communication. Did they effectively communicate changes and issues to their manager. Did they utilize the support of the team in an appropriate and non-invasive manner? Did they accept, understand, and implement feedback well? How well written were their docs?
  • Introspection. How well did they judge their own abilities. Were they able to identify weaknesses and work to address them? Do they show an improved understanding of time estimation based on their own productivity? In brief, do they demonstrate an ability to analyze their own performance and work to improve it?
  • Tool use. How well did they use tools like SVN, time tracking, Basecamp, and their developer tools?
  • Code. Adherence to company standards, architecture, appropriate commenting, documentation, use of appropriate frameworks / libraries / patterns.
  • User experience: Did they attempt to create a usable, aesthetically appropriate interface? Do they demonstrate an understanding of UX core concepts and underpinnings.
  • Productivity. How productive were they in the time they had, accounting for things like necessary rewrites, and accommodating feedback?

Based on this review, we may ask them to spend another week or two cleaning things up or extending the project, or we may proceed into the next phase, project shadowing.

This internal project development gives the new hire a great opportunity to learn and apply new technical concepts while gaining an understanding of our processes and all the elements that go into delivering a successful project. It also gives our senior team to evaluate the new hire in a near real-world situation, without any real-world risk.

The next article, on project shadowing, is available here.

Grant Skinner

The "g" in gskinner. Also the "skinner".


One Comment

  1. Grant,

    I’m a big fan of this series, thanks for getting back into it.

    Just curious, How many new hires have you put through this process? What’s the largest amount of new hires you have put through this process in a given year?

    You seem to have created a Utopia for new hires. As a largely self-taught flash developer freelancer of many years, I’m quite jealous of anyone who would be fortunate enough to go through this process.

    I imagine as a smaller and highly-specialized agency/dev shop you have the ability to run things your way. It is unfortunate that larger agencies with more people and $$$ usually lack the focus and discipline to invest the time in a program like this. It would be great to see more people following your lead here. It seems this “starter project” would provide experience to anyone starting out or even late in their career that couldn’t be matched in any university course. Your new hires should be paying you for the first month!

    Looking forward to the next article,


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