Over the past few years at Shopify, I’ve had the pleasure of onboarding dozens of developers. The onboarding process is a living beast, that continually evolves, but I’ve begun to identify what makes a meaningful and welcoming first experience.

Initially, I believed a proper onboarding was simply making sure the new hire has everything they need: a laptop, desk, software. The more I went through this process, the faster I got at setting up devs with the tools they needed. It’s incredibly fun to start at a new company and use new technology, but I’ve come to realize hardware and software shouldn’t be the focus.

Onboarding should focus on long-term impact, rather than short-term contributions. To set someone up for the long-term, these are the key areas to focus on:

  1. A sense of belonging
  2. Storytelling
  3. Understanding the work
  4. Empathizing with the customer

A sense of belonging

A sense of belonging is crucial during an employee’s first few days and weeks at a company. It is important that employees have support not only from peers but also from their lead; more important still is a feeling that they are in the right place. It’s the difference between passive help and active inclusion.

One approach I’ve taken to aid in this is to encourage existing members of the team reach out to new hires and book an informal fifteen-minute coffee chat. I’ve seen these first-week conversations turn into long-term friendships. The goal of this is so that whenever the new hire has any questions, they have an entire team that can help them.

I also encourage existing team members to take an active approach to this relationship. “Let me know if you want to get coffee,” turns into, “Hey, let’s go grab a coffee.” It’s a minor adjustment, but it’s crucial to make the new person feel welcome, and that they’re a wanted part of the team.


Storytelling can come in many different ways at work, but the two I’ve found most valuable are sharing personal experiences and sharing the history of the team.

Sharing personal experiences is an especially effective way to help a new hire combat imposter syndrome. Most of us have been there, and can empathize with feeling insecure.