Co-Presenting at ElixirConf 2022

September 08, 2022

Tags: Company, Elixir, Talks

How to Grow Your Own Juniors

Meks McClure and I had the privilege of co-presenting in Aurora, Colorado last week at ElixirConf 2022. It was the first time that either of us had spoken at a conference and we were incredibly nervous.

We were in the second round of talks on Thursday, just before lunch. This meant that there was a talk immediately before ours– a talk that turned out to be a great companion to ours: "Onboarding New Elixir Members" by De Wet Blomerus. Neither of us were able to fully appreciate De Wet’s talk, however, as we reviewed slides and attempted to follow our emcee Sundi Myint’s advice and use box breathing to slow our racing hearts.

When it was our turn to step onto the big stage, we were vibrating with nerves. Meks recalls that their hands were so shaky that they needed help clipping the mic to their button-up shirt. I was given what I have come to bitterly call the “popstar mic” that looped over one ear and rested on my cheek.

Once we were mic’d up, we introduced ourselves and our remote, distributed company, explaining that we use the full PETAL stack at NewAperio. We organized our talk into three stages of growth, leaning heavily into our analogy of a junior developer being a seedling planted into the soil that is your company.

The 3 Stages of Growth

In Prepping the Soil, we shared recommendations for how to prepare before a new hire joins your team, starting with general workplace suggestions for how to build a culture of knowledge-sharing and question-asking. With those details in place, you are ready to prepare directly for onboarding by establishing mentors, creating a slide deck presentation, and then building a sandbox project for your new hire.

Once those items are prepared, it’s time to plant the seedling into your team and onboard them! We described how a junior’s first week might look, dividing it up into Day 1 (Setup), Day 2 (Sandbox Project), and Days 3-5 (Pairing). After going into each of the three divisions in more detail, we zoomed through concepts to focus on, highlighting where the two of us struggled and how to help your junior through those areas. We then wrapped up the section with a warning about overloading your new hire with too much information and the necessity for repetition.

The First Week

Finally, we discussed how to continue mentorship after the seedling has been planted for a week. How do you bring them onto an active project and continue to nurture their learning and support their growth? We recommended starting small and helping them build up their confidence. Working on a production application is scary and small features coupled with growth-minded code review practices can go a long way. As your junior grows, however, it’s important to keep an open dialogue and adjust your support as needed. A practice that might’ve been essential at the beginning might turn out later to be unneeded as your junior gets more comfortable.

To conclude our talk, we openly admitted that juniors are an investment– they take preparation and they take time. However, there are other ways to think about juniors: as an investment in that individual and their skillset; as an investment in your team and company through the enriching experience of teaching others; and as an investment in the Elixir community.

Meks and I are ever so grateful that NewAperio invested in us and welcomed us into the Elixir community and we look forward to many more years of Elixir development to come.

Our presentation slides are available here on Speaker Deck! And keep an eye out for the video recording of our talk on ElixirConf's YouTube channel.

Nikki Kyllonen

Junior Developer

Tired graduate TA turned wide-eyed junior dev. Requires good desk speakers and periodic dog petting breaks to survive. Enjoys road trips and rock climbing when not glued to her computer. she/her

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