How To Bring Experienced Engineers on Board



How do you help experienced professionals transition into ladder levels at your company?  one of the challenges I’ve seen at Microsoft is helping an experienced professional succeed as a new hire. The new hire brings their extensive experience, but they may be missing knowledge or experiences expected for that level at Microsoft. How do you help the new kid in school succeed, while they’re facing culture shock, having to learn how things work, and building a network  from scratch?  In Professional Software Development: Shorter Schedules, Higher Quality Products, More Successful Projects, Enhanced Careers , Steve McConnell writes about using “Transitional Levels” to help assimilate experienced engineers into ladder levels.

Assimilating Experienced Engineers into the Ladder
McConnell writes that experienced engineers shouldn’t start at the bottom, but they shouldn’t compromise the integrity of established ladder levels:

We found a need to accomodate new employees who gained their experience at other companies.  Many of our job candidates have had extensive industry experience but have not met some of our other ladder requirements.  Hiring these employees at our Level 10 or Level 11 salaries would make our offers noncompetitive.  As a practical matter, we wouldn’t be able to hire many senior engineers.  It became important to determine how a new employee could be brought in at Level 12 without compromising the integrity of the ladder and without diminishing the achievements of Construx employees who have worked their way up the ladder while at Construx.

Transitional Levels
McConnell writes that he’s addressed the issue by using transitional levels and monthly mentor meetings:

To support these goals, we created “Transitional Level 12.”  A Transitional Level 12 Engineer is hired as a Level 12 Engineer and has one year or less to complete the missing elements of the ladder, typically extensive reading.  During this year, the employee meets with a mentor monthly to discuss the work he or she has completed and to deal with any progress issues.  When backfilling is complete, the employee is recognized as a Level 12 Engineer.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • Use transitional levels as a way to keep integrity of the ladder levels.
  • Use transitional levels as a way to formally identify any knowledge or experience gaps.
  • Use monthly mentor meetings as a way to help the experienced engineer make progress towards filling the gaps.