Transitioning onto an established team can feel like being a newbie all over again, especially if the codebase, languages, or team dynamics are unfamiliar. You are jumping into a group with an established system with little context. Ironically, the best strategy for catching up to speed and not getting in the way is to, first, slow down and get very in the way.
Your teammates have had time to settle in, get familiar with the codebase, and form a sort of shared thought process when navigating. While they jump between tabs and Vim themselves into hyperspeed, you likely feel like the walls of text flashing past you are hypnotizing you.
Be intentional about slowing the process down. It can feel bad to slow down a workflow that has become refined and efficient. But, placing the focus on connecting the pieces in your brain will help you become equally knowledgeable of the codebase quicker overall.
Regularly remind your pair to process their thoughts out loud. Additionally, diagram or bullet-point a plan for each story before starting it. Don’t forget to include the business rules of the story, which can often be glossed over from the developers’ approach. Have your pair identify each file they navigate to and explain how it fits into their solution hypothesis.
It is very tempting to smile and nod and hope that you pick up on whatever that thing was that your pair just typed. You’ll probably figure it out after encountering it many times, right? After all, it’s good to not overload yourself with information. But, if it seems like a generally central aspect of the codebase, this is yet another good reason to push aside the feelings of being in the way and slow down. Pick out three to five new concepts each time you pair to pause on. Ask a ton of questions, dig into the details, and try to review them again briefly later in the day. Use a memory recall app to refresh yourself on your pair’s explanation without asking them to repeat themself.
When I was The New Guy On The Established Team, my other coworkers had an established communication style after working together for a long time. In the early days, I did a lot of the slowing down mentioned above. I was also very conscious that I was disrupting the usual pace. My pair was noticeably frustrated, and I made the mistake of writing my own Shitty First Draft of the situation. I assumed my inability as a more recent team addition caused the frustration. In reality, my coworker was just realizing the complexity of the story we were working on.
Have conversations about the way each of you communicates and be explicitly clear on your thought processes. This can help get rid of the murkiness that comes with new team relationships.