Tips for Joining an Existing Software Team

At least once in our lives, most of us get thrown into an ongoing project and forced to bring ourselves up to speed as quickly as possible. This process is rarely simple and can often feel like being thrown into a pool of ice cold water—stressful, frustrating, demoralizing, numbing.

Here are a few tips that can help you get through the process more smoothly and efficiently.

1. Avoid the Urge to Deep Dive Early

When you first start on a project that involves a lot of unfamiliar concepts and material, try to avoid digging down into the finite details early on. Focus on achieving a broad, high level understanding of whatever it is that you’re working on and the processes involved.

Personally, I find it very helpful to draw lots of diagrams as I try to form a mental picture of whatever it is that I’m working on. Keep the drawings on your desk and reference them often in discussions with your coworkers. This is an excellent way to find gaps in your understanding and ensure that you’re on the same page as your coworkers.

2. Be Flexible

The hard thing about software development is that, generally, there is no right or wrong way of doing things. There are always multiple ways to accomplish the same thing, which means opinions will vary on what the best approach is.

When you join a project that is already ongoing, you will no doubt find places where you would have done things differently, had it been your choice. This is where flexibility is important. Rather than criticizing someone else’s decision or giving in to the temptation to tell them all about what a better solution would have been, remain silent and stay focused. Pointing these things out is often a distraction and inhibits forward progress. Rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities for you to weigh-in on decisions that are yet to be made.

3. Stay Focused

People often use the phrase “drinking from a firehose” to describe what if feels like when you’re suddenly inundated with a large amount of new information. When this happens, it can be very easy to glaze over and tune out. If you feel this is happening, I find that the best thing you can do is take a break. Get up from your desk, go for a short walk, maybe have a brief conversation at the water-cooler about something completely non-work related. Give your mind a chance to relax. When you get back to work, you will be sharper and more able to focus.

Boredom is another thing that can easily lead to tuning-out. If someone is showing you something that is uninteresting or maybe something you already know, don’t let yourself get distracted with other things. Don’t pop open your favorite social media app or start reading the daily news. If you do, you’re bound to miss important details.

4. Stay Positive

When you’re the new person on the team, it’s very easy to feel discouraged at your inability to contribute. Keep in mind that everyone feels this way at times. That’s simply an unfortunate side effect of working on interesting, challenging projects.

Remind yourself of the fact that you are highly talented and very good at your job (You wouldn’t be there if you weren’t, right?) Before long you will be cruising along with the rest of the pack.

5. Communicate

The most important piece of advice that I can offer, to ease the process of merging into an ongoing project, is to maintain good communication with the rest of your team. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling. If you don’t understand something, speak up. If you just sit silently you will likely end up wasting yours and others’ time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you won’t always be the new person on the project. Next time it might be you that’s helping someone else ramp up. Keep these points in mind regardless of which position you’re in to make the transition less burdensome for everyone involved.