Serious About Co-op Students

The HubSpot engineering co-op program has made a tremendous impact on our team. Many of our best engineers have come from the ranks of past co-ops.

Nothing is better than having a dozen new co-ops every few months to sharpen the on-boarding, mentoring and coaching skills of your team. It's no secret that many engineers at HubSpot have their sights on becoming a leader on their path to leading a startup one day. Co-ops give many of up-and-coming managers a chance to develop managerial skills in a safe, directed environment.

Ultimately though, whether a co-op ends up working with us permanently or not, our job is to make sure that the co-op has a truly positive experience. You only get so many opportunities to experience a work environment before setting out into the world; it's our duty to make sure our charges get the best possible education.

Embracing Change

Every fall, spring, and summer term, we add about 15% to our usual complement of engineers through co-ops. That’s an average of 2-3 new members for every team. It’s a form of regular disruption that, if mishandled could throw teams off balance, but one that we try to embrace. How successful we are depends strongly on how effectively we welcome them to the team and value them as full contributors to our culture and productivity.

One way we try to get off on the right foot with our co-ops is by bringing them in on a day that is already full of energy and excitement: Seat shuffle day.

When each new class of co-ops joins us, we kick off one of our regular seat shuffles. Everybody on the engineering team changes desk location, relocating to a new setting in the office and getting acquainted with new neighbors and collaborators. So while it’s Day One for our co-ops, with all of the excitement and nervousness that goes along with that, it’s also a fresh start for everyone else on the team. This helps put us all on an equal footing from the beginning, and reminds us that we were all newcomers once — and that change is a constant.

There is no doubt that on-boarding an engineer is hard work and takes time, particularly when that engineer is young and inexperienced. We have found however that after a month or so of work, inexperienced candidates can often end up the strongest developers, as there are fewer bad habits to break.

The absolute best technique we've found for education is the pull request. The ability for a co-op to try something, and get immediate and targeted feedback from experts is invaluable. We also rely on a variety of knowledge sources to help co-ops answer common questions. We have a wiki, project readmes and a Quandora deploy, all of which get heavy use. Finally, we use HipChat to keep communication fast and effortless.

Incorporating a fresh batch of new, young talent into our ranks three times each year is not without its challenges. But the upside is huge. So while it does require extra care and preparation to make it all work, it’s important to keep in mind why we do this at all.

Our hiring pipeline gets stronger

A co-op who has proven themselves over the course of a term with us is so much less of a gamble over a cold outside hire that it doesn’t even bear comparison. When you think about the risks involved in hiring someone right off the street, it makes even more sense to invest heavily our co-ops’ development. We end up keeping — or trying to keep — more than 75% of our co-ops.

Most co-ops are with us for six months, and we do our best not to wait until five months and two weeks have passed before we try to figure out if we want them or not. Our goal is to know within the first 90 days if there is a good fit. We've found that the more we invest up front in our co-ops, the better our rate of return.

Our coaching skills get sharper

This need to closely monitor and review the way people work, teaching them better habits and processes wherever possible, means that we become better teachers and mentors. And this benefits our whole team, not just the co-ops who most immediately benefit from our coaching efforts.

Co-ops are here to learn how to work just as much as they want to learn applied computer science. While our mantra at HubSpot is always “Use good judgement,” in many cases these students will not have the experience or exposure to know how they should handle certain workplace situations. So we need to help them develop in maturity as well as their technical skills. We try to be proactive and concrete, especially about working hours, expectations, and pace.

We make an effort to adopt our co-ops into our culture. We aim to be proactive about including them in team activities, going to lunch with them, and pulling them into meetings. We want to keep them moving and learning and growing, and this works best when they get a lot of chances to interact with the full-time engineering team. If we really want to develop their maturity, we need to resist the tendency for co-ops to just hang out with other co-ops.

So far, it all seems to be paying off. We hire a lot of engineers straight out of the co-op program, we become better mentors and coaches by working with co-ops, and we get to help shape and train the next generation of world-changers. And that’s a return rate we can all be happy about.