Kids are spending more time on the internet every day – but the websites and apps they use were primarily designed for use by adults.

At SuperAwesome, we’re focused on making the internet safer for kids. We hire the most talented developers we can find – but more often than not they have little to no experience in our very new sector. So our onboarding process has been designed to turn great software engineers into kidtech engineers, focused on the importance of privacy and children.

As Head of Engineering, I want to share with you how we approach onboarding a new engineer, and what this means for our teams and the new joiners themselves:

Define clear goals, and support the transformation

A SuperAwesome engineer displays these three traits:

  • Has the end user of the product they are building in mind throughout the process; (whether that user is an adult or a child) and makes usability decisions accordingly
  • Knows how to handle PII (Personally Identifiable Information) according to GDPR-K and COPPA; and
  • Chooses or develops the right technology to deliver value while keeping user data safe and privacy protected.

On their first day at SuperAwesome, every new joiner is given a detailed 30/60/90 Day Plan, an onboarding journey filled with challenges tailored to the strengths and weaknesses we noticed in the interviews, as well as training sessions to get them started on their journey to becoming kidtech engineers.

The training sessions offered vary depending on the team and the function covered and can span from how we go about protecting kids’ privacy in PopJam to how we scale our technology to support millions of users.

Regardless of the team they join, every engineer goes through our KidAware certification and is expected to develop a deep level of familiarity with COPPA and GDPR-K digital privacy laws.

The onboarding plan is structured to lead the new hire to a progressively larger impact each month.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

The progress on the plan is reviewed monthly, and the manager plays the part of the sparring partner, helping the new joiner to reason how a focus on digital privacy has changed their approach to coding.

A successful onboarding is determined not only by an increased awareness of the fundamental issues experienced by kids (and parents/guardians), but also by a profound determination to resolve them once and for all, enabling other great software engineers to develop kid-safe and kid-friendly tech products.

Onboarding as a team effort

Some weeks before welcoming the new member, we lay the groundwork to help them to become productive as swiftly as possible.

As a team we review our goals, products, systems and development processes, and we create clarity around each of them. Surprisingly frequently this simple exercise has uncovered some hidden complexities or misalignments that could be resolved straight away, or has fueled other ongoing initiatives.

We don’t obsess over documentation, preferring to focus on live-ops documentation such as runbooks describing how to setup and operate a service, and technical strategy and principles documents such as “How we go about testing” or “How we’re planning to migrate to an event-driven architecture.”

We also prepare to argue (don’t worry, it’s a good thing). Bruce Tuckman (a psychologist known for his research into group dynamics) taught us that every time we add a new person to the team we alter the team’s dynamics and we will inevitably head to a “storming” stage.

This friction is inevitable – so we are totally explicit about it, and we prepare both the team and the new joiners to accept it positively and to always assume the best intentions.

We have found that this awareness encourages people to be open about problems, and this means the focus rapidly shifts to finding and agreeing on a way forward.

Approaching the onboarding process as a team enables us to establish a new and better baseline at each iteration, and improve the whole experience for the next new joiner.

And who knows? That new joiner could even be you. SuperAwesome are hiring. To be part of our mission to make the internet safer for kids, click here.

Piergiorgio ‘PG’ Niero

Piergiorgio ‘PG’ Niero is Head of Engineering at SuperAwesome.