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Onboarding during Covid-19: a day in the life of a remote engineer

Monique Bailey
By Monique Bailey — August 10, 2020 -

In this 'Day in the Life of' piece, we talk to Joe, a software engineer at Mention Me. Joe joined the business on the first day of lockdown in March. He reveals what it's like to onboard remotely, why he loves the tech stack, and how gin and chocolate have helped him get to know fellow Mentioneers.

Tell us about your recruitment process. 

I was first approached about the role by a recruiter in January and thought it looked interesting. After putting myself forward, I had a call with the People team, then another with Ed, the Head of Engineering. By the time we’d finished speaking, I knew I wanted to work at Mention Me.

The next step was a face-to-face interview with Ed and Tim, the CTO, at Mention Me HQ. It was a great couple of hours that felt more like a conversation than an interview. I was offered the role five minutes after leaving, so my journey back from Vauxhall was a happy one!

What was your first day like?

My first day was also the first working day of lockdown on 30th March. That made things interesting (in a good way!). Although my role is remote, I’d been planning to spend the first few weeks in the office to meet the team and learn the product. Covid put those plans on hold! 

The day started with the team stand-up call. Ed had arranged an icebreaker meeting with the team the week before I started, so I already recognised some of the faces saying hello on webcam. 

I spent the rest of the morning online with Tim, the IT manager. He’d sent a care package the week before, with a macbook, chargers, cables and a Mention Me notebook. Tim helped me set up my credentials and made sure I had access to everything.

In the afternoon, Matt, one of the engineering team leads, helped set me up with the local development environment and get ready to write code.

How have you found onboarding remotely?

My remote experience has been pretty good. Since everyone’s working from home, there are fewer meetings and everyone has more time.

One thing that stood out to me was “meeting” fellow team members. In the office, you naturally get to know people. It’s a lot more difficult to do that remotely. I’ve found scheduling time to meet colleagues remotely is a great way to learn about everyone.

I thought it’d be weird not meeting anyone for months, but now it feels like I’ve been working with my colleagues for years. Even though I’ve only met two of them in person! 

How do you work with your new team members? 

We mostly keep in touch via Slack channels and direct messages. For bigger conversations, we’ll jump on a call. 

When peer-programming, we’ll often set up a Slack call so it feels like we’re sitting next to each other. I’ve tried out a couple of remote programming tools, but haven’t found any that beat the classic screen-share.

How have you got to know other Mentioneers while working remotely?

During my first few weeks, Ed set up time with each member of the Engineering team so I could get to know everyone. We’ve also had remote team away days. During my first week, we played games and had a remote takeaway together. Another remote away day was a cooking lesson taught by a Sri Lankan chef.

There have also been remote company socials, from chocolate and gin tasting to quizzes, that have been great for meeting the wider business and bonding with people in my house (think Harry Potter).

Did anything about the onboarding process surprise you?

Considering I joined at the start of a global pandemic, I was amazed at how organised everything was. It’s impossible to prepare for such a thing, yet Mention Me’s response was flawless. 

Everyone was also incredibly friendly. Each person took a real interest in me and my background during the onboarding meetings. It makes a difference when joining a new company.

The only negative has been not being able to visit the office. I can’t wait to meet my colleagues in person!

How are you finding your new role?

I’ve loved every day working at Mention Me. I come from a consulting background, where after delivering a project, you’re straight on to the next. It’s the complete opposite at Mention Me. We get to see the impact of the changes we deploy on the business. Everyone’s playing for the same team, so it’s great to see things go well and celebrate success.

On the technology side, I’m loving the tech stack. Coming from a Symfony background is great when the main product is written in Symfony. I’ve also had lots of chances to brush up on my React skills and work on important projects for the wider business.

What does your typical day now look like? Do you expect this to change much when everyone’s back in the office?

Every day starts with the Engineering team stand-up on Google Meet. This is more social than technical, but it’s a great way to surface any problems or ask questions. 

Then I crack on with either ongoing work or something from the backlog. At the moment, I’m working on a big project with another engineer, so spend most days picking up new tasks for that. 

Every other week, we’ll have a planning meeting where we assess the backlog, and retrospective meetings where we reflect on what we’ve done well (and not so well).

Every other Wednesday is perspective day – a time when we have creative licence to work on something outside of business as usual. It’s a great chance to work on ideas for the product.

What advice would you give someone thinking of joining Mention Me?

In terms of working remotely, I’d say keep a defined line between work and play. My desk is set up away from my main living area, so I don’t feel like I’m at work when I switch off in the evening. It’s important to be strict with your working hours.

I’d also recommend making the effort to socialise. I’ve found the team socials a great way to meet people, as well as the ‘donut’ hours, where you get randomly matched with someone in the wider business.

For anyone joining as an engineer, I’d recommend courses on Udemy. I’ve worked with React before, but it’s changed a lot! Doing the courses refreshed my skills ahead of my first day.

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