Before the events of COVID-19, we had planned to begin our 5th DevOps Graduate Academy. We’d begun hiring, following our usual process, with a group of potential candidates coming in for a group interview/team-building exercise, a test, and then breaking out into 121 interviews with members of our leadership team.
When the seriousness of the situation came to light, we had to either cancel this Academy intake and wait for working ways to return to their norm, or adapt and overcome. Obviously, we chose the latter.
Our amazing Talent Acquisition Partner, Shannon, worked tirelessly to put new processes into place to continue our hiring efforts, whilst Academy Trainer Steve Shilling set systems in place to ensure we could achieve the same training experience entirely online.
We asked Shannon and Steve some questions on how the process works, what they’ve learnt and what to expect moving from an entirely classroom-based intensive course to remote ways of working.
How did the remote interview process work?
Shannon: We ran 2 more remote assessment days after the initial one held in the office.
On the day, all candidates were sent google meet invites and the morning was spent as normal: introducing the business and talking through all the things they’ll need to know about the role and what it’s like to work for the company.
From there, they log into an online GIA assessment for their verbal and non-verbal reasoning test. After they take a break the candidates then have two 121 interviews scheduled for the afternoon. In the remote interviews, it was a real bonus having their GIA scores readily available for the interviewers to talk through.
Were there any benefits or drawbacks to this new process?
Shannon: It meant we revamped our whole academy process and I feel the process is the best we could have done with the time we had. Meeting F2F is superior but changing our process will be an improvement overall because it will have elements of both. We always look to improve our processes but the old method worked so the new improvements like having the GIA results to hand while doing the interviews, having two F2F interviews and having a consistent scorecard to input interview feedback into, might not have happened before because the old way worked well. It taught us that elements of both would be perfect.
Directly viewing applicants on the scorecard meant members of the leadership team had more trust in the remote process because feedback was logged properly, it was consistent and we all asked the same questions.
The only drawback I think is that you can’t see how well they work within a team or engage with each other, when we can we’d keep the group exercise we usually have, but still use the GIA and stick to two F2F interviews.
Steve: The interview part of the remote hiring was really good, having no pretext of them. The group thing will be interesting, having never met each other before, the first time they see each other will be on their first day via video call. The dynamics will be different and I’m excited to see how their group personality works. Our values and what we look for in an employee is ingrained in the hiring process so I’m not worried.
How did you manage the onboarding process?
Shannon: So it’s actually still the standard onboarding process in terms of paperwork, that’s all done virtually. The only real difference has been shipping the laptops to them. They’ve been sent their emails and had an onboarding session the first morning to get them set up. Normally we take new joiners out for lunch with some of the team, this time there’s a group lunch online with past graduates and Delivery managers. Then they come back to their Academy conference call and join us for a group session to run through benefits, pay, sickness, absence and everything else they’ll need to know.
Are there any ways we tried to add more of a personal touch to this way of doing things?
Shannon: We’ve set up group lunches to get to know each other and the team. Their delivery manager and our office manager also help to get them involved with the regular socials in the company such as the online lunchtime calls, quiz nights, happy hour and so on.
How will you get to know people during the academy?
Steve: Exactly the same as a regular classroom, I strongly believe you can still run a normal class online. G-suite allows lots of users, you can see their face and have normal introductions. The only difference is none of us is in the same place. Obviously I’m hoping they all have a decent internet connection. Being able to see their face when they get stuck should make it easier to detect it and help when needed. The downside is that they can’t all talk at the same time.
How will you navigate the majority of the training?
Steve: Everything is on confluence, including links to essentials for further reading. We tend to run the course in a very hands-on manner which means lots of demonstrations and follow along to allow them to test things out and learn as they go. The documentation is there for the trainer to go through like a memory jogger and further reading for our grads.
The Jam board is a godsend for this kind of training. You can split-screen and have the jam board open, so we’re able to see what’s being drawn and google meetings simultaneously. The way we’ve always worked throughout the academy is that when someone has a problem they share their screen – we all do a debug session to problem solve. The jam board is just a remote whiteboard to visualise these issues and hand over the controls to whoever needs help. The academy isn’t just a PowerPoint slide with pre-defined exercises, we want the best out of the grads and we especially want them thinking for themselves ready to go straight out of the programme. Lots of demonstrations, follow along, reading materials, backups for downloads if they’re running slow, and debug sessions to work together. This is all possible remotely now.
Are you keeping the majority of the academy plan the same to previous intakes or have you had to change it a lot to fit this new way of working?
Steve: This one will stay the same as the last group, we’re actually adding in additional content. Certainly not taking anything away due to the change in location. The format, flow, run plan, core materials and essentials are all the same.
How will you assign project work in groups?
Steve: I have a way of grouping people. Before we get to group assessments they do one assessment themselves, which gives us an idea on how they understand instructions, and their initial technical abilities, then the questions leading up to project work adds a lot of data of who I should put where. The team should be a good balance of technical, leadership skills, etc.
In terms of how they’ll work together in teams while remote, we just set up separate google meets. It actually stops any cheating, and they still work independently of each other. There shouldn’t be any blockers to teamwork
I actually think the biggest issue of working from home during the projects is structuring their own day, simple things like eating and taking time off. The projects are intense and this will be really good practice for time management. Of course, we’ll encourage regular breaks, the first-day onboarding will have professional standards training – turning up on time, engage in sessions, be respectful and responsible but we’ll continue to support them on this.
Do you think the same level of soft consulting skills can be learnt remotely?
Steve: They should be able to get a good idea, they may have a different view of soft skills of consulting as they will have to learn without being present. Being unable to base their reactions off body language and only seeing facial expressions, you may not know you’ve said something they disagree with. Agile training will help with this. Interestingly they will definitely have a better understanding of working from home which will be a useful skill but we may have to do an extra week of training back in the office when we can, will be an adjustment.
As and when we go back to regular ways of working, do you think there is anything the grads will need to do as a priority to learn the ‘usual’ ways?
Steve: If the programme doesn’t get into the office before it finishes, there will need to be 1 group task set to see how they respond in a room together and work as a team. DevOps relies on teamwork so I think it will be really important to see that in action. They miss the onsite training we usually set up as well, so they will buddy up with a senior engineer who will act as a client for them to learn the difference between a classroom and real-life work. Things like the client not being available 100% of the time will be new and how will they respond to disagreements etc. What happens when you can’t just leave a call?
Our 6 new graduates, Cherry Davies, David Teeling, Fani Foveta, Murrad Asgheddi, Silviana-Andreea and Tom Moran started on Monday 20th April, keep an eye out for updates on our socials and we’ll continue to post on their remote progress!
If you’re interested in learning more about the skills and experience of our graduate engineers and what’s covered in our DevOps Academy syllabus, contact us today at email@example.com so we can share with you our latest information or click here.
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