Acclimate to a new software development team

What you need to know when joining a new software development team

Whether you are a freelance coder who burns through several clients a year, or an in-house developer, if you are going to be successful, you’ll need to become an expert at fitting into new teams.

Like it or not, when you join a new software development team, you’ll need to be a political mover: someone who is able to break the ice, overcome any resistance, find allies and friends, and ride out potential team politics.

If you can do this well, you’ll integrate quickly into your new software team, hitting peak productivity in the shortest possible time.

Sound difficult? It isn’t really. Smoothly acclimating to a new software development team can actually be straightforward, if you follow some of our tips below.

Show willingness

One of the quickest ways to upset a new team is to come in with a lot of fixed expectations of how things should be as it will quickly identify you as an outsider. That’s why one of the best ways to acclimate to a new software development team is to show willingness from day one. How can you do this?

Try following the strongly up-voted advice of this accomplished developer on Quora who simply recommended “ask what needs to be done, and then do that.”

Doing this will mean you come across as willing, and once you have proven yourself a team player, you’ll be able to push for “cooler” projects.

Join with an open mind

As a programmer with access to lots of technologies and best practices, you’ve probably developed quite a few personal preferences for how you like to work. However, keep an open mind when joining a new business and be ready to try out some new ways of working. If you insist on doing things ‘your way’, you’ll most likely cause some frustration with your peers, consequently making it harder for you to be accepted into the team. So, toe the line for a bit, and once you’ve shown you are open to new methods, people will respect your opinion more, and be more open to any alternatives suggestions you may have learned in your prior career experiences.

Have a quick win

Having a ‘quick win’ is corporate speak for successfully completing an assignment early on in your tenure, which allows you to demonstrate your development skill set and usefulness to the team.

This MIT white paper shows that these quick wins help: build your confidence, establish good work habits, gain respect, and ultimately gain access to more important assignments – which can lead to faster career progression.

So, how can you do it? Easy. Watch how the software development team works and see if you can find a fix to a major pain point in a tool or process that makes day to day development easier.  Listen to the developers’ complaints and grumbling, perhaps about test frameworks, continuous integration, the build process, or reporting on management metrics. Then spend your own time working to see if you can fix the pain point through automation or by suggesting another tool.

Be careful not to step on anyone’s toes; most people will be happy to have a laborious process automated, but changing an established tool could be politically sensitive, so work with a respected team member before proposing this. Fixing a pain point quickly is a great way to establish yourself in a new software development team.

Find a buddy and build a network

The typical development environment full of hard working, headphone-wearing programmers can produce great code, but it can be quite an insular environment. It can be hard for a newcomer to break in to this, and as a result, they can feel quite isolated. So what should you do? Put some headphones on, put your head down, and start coding like everyone else? Yes, to a point, but you’ll also need to break away and socialize. Otherwise, how will you learn about the culture, systems, and ways of working? In fact, research from MIT shows that the new hires that get up to speed the quickest are the ones who ‘build informational networks’, which means they quickly find out who knows what, and fearlessly ask these experts questions.

So to help yourself acclimatize, don’t hesitate to ask your boss for a ‘buddy’, that is, a go-to person for questions. Failing that, find out who the go-to people are, then ask them questions – and always thank them for their time. Most people are usually pleased to help, however, for the best response, avoid them when they look busy, don’t ask the same question twice, and don’t ask silly or irrelevant questions.

As you can see, acclimating to a new software team is not just about having the right technical skills. In fact, research shows that just 11% of new hires fail due to a lack of technical skill. But many new hires fail due to a lack of social skills as well, so it shows it isn’t just about what you do, it’s also about the way that you do it.