HatCHRy: C.H. Robinson IT Onboarding

In the beginning of 2017, C.H. Robinson held its first HatCHRy session, and has since continued to help introduce new engineering hires to company technology, culture, and the business organization as a whole. As someone who was a part of the spring 2019 HatCHRy program, I am able to speak firsthand on the perks and benefits that the program has provided me, as well as share perspectives from other past HatCHRy engineers.

What is the HatCHRy?

At a high level, the HatCHRy is a three-month onboarding program with many elements tying up into it, that ultimately prepares engineers for placement on a full-time team. Soon after being introduced to each other, engineering hires attend ACCELERATOR, our internal onboarding program, alongside carrier and customer representatives. ACCELERATOR is a standard program for all new C.H. Robinson hires, which teaches company culture and history, as well as the ins and outs of our flagship program, Navisphere. After a few days in ACCELERATOR, everyone is more familiar with the standard workflow of how a load gets from place to place and how all relevant parties interact with it. It is at this point that the engineers move into the main portion of the HatCHRy where they will be spending the next three months.

The HatCHRy

In this environment, engineers are given everything they need to start effectively learning: new laptops, standing desks, and multiple monitors. The program is facilitated by a team of technical instructors who are in charge of giving “tech talks” on the various technologies that most teams use: C#, React with JavaScript, and SQL are just a few of the technologies covered. It is not expected that HatCHRy engineers have extensive backgrounds in any of these specific technologies, and the tech talks on a given technology generally start with basic concepts and move towards more complex features as the program goes on.

Although the HatCHRy offers extensive technical training, there is a strong emphasis placed on collaboration with other engineers. Agile practices are taught and utilized to give structure to the program and to familiarize new hires with this and other industry-standard practices. A project management board and standup are just two of the practices used to help track progress on individual tasks, and to give the engineers understanding as to how their work ties into the other tasks being worked on.

An important part of the HatCHRy are the presentations given throughout the HatCHRy by other teams as to what their team is and how it ties into C.H. Robinson as a business. These presentations give important context to the relationships between teams, how the pieces of our software connect, and most importantly, how users interact with our systems. In the grand scheme of learning a new tech stack, being able understand how the pieces all fit together is integral to fully understanding the organization’s technology.

Transition to a Team

Ultimately, the purpose of the HatCHRy is to prepare new engineering hires for their placement on a permanent team within the company. Technical skills, soft skills, and company knowledge are all topics addressed in the HatCHRy. Each of these knowledge sets is integral to becoming an effective team member. At the end of the HatCHRy, I was placed on a team with another HatCHRy member. While there was a new code base and some new technologies to learn, the transition to the new team felt seamless. Through the months of preparation in the HatCHRy as well as the support of my new team, I was quickly able to pick up and complete meaningful tasks and quickly learn the team-specific processes and architecture, instead of having to focus on learning the nuances between C# and Java, or general agile practices. The HatCHRy provided a very effective means to obtain an in-depth understanding of several topics so I could easily transition to a team and allowed me to quickly provide value to my team.

Skill Development

The HatCHRy has had a significant impact on many engineers in their journey from new hire to fully-integrated employee. Alberto Hernandez is an engineer who went through the HatCHRy in the spring of 2018 and talks about his experience:

I think the HatCHRy was exceptionally helpful with preparing me for working on my current team at C.H. Robinson. I was able to familiarize myself and build confidence with C# and JavaScript in a low-stress and learning-based environment. The HatCHRy also taught us about internal processes at Robinson such as DBAR’s [Database Admin Requests], inner-sourcing, and the DevOps pipeline, all of which I interact with on a regular basis. With the help of Alec [technical instructor], the various presenters, and my cohort, I built a strong foundation that me and my current team were able to build upon to shape me into a successful developer.

Jimmy Ericson is another software engineer who attended the HatCHRy in the spring of 2017. They have rather similar views on how the HatCHRy has helped them transition into placement on a team very effectively:

The HatCHRy filled in the gaps of my technical abilities, giving me much more confidence once I started on my team as a new software developer. It also exposed me to a large company fairly thoroughly, offering me a broad context of its teams and culture. I like to say that the HatCHRy allowed me to hit the ground running once I was put on a team.

My favorite aspect of the HatCHRy was the networking. It allowed me to meet a number of people on other teams which made a large tech department feel smaller and less daunting. It also allowed me to grow great relationships with other new developers which gave me an awesome support group with others who were also starting a new career.

There are very common themes between Alberto and Jimmy’s thoughts of the HatCHRy; these include hard skills such as company-specific tech and processes, as well as soft skills such as communication and collaboration. Solid foundations in these skill sets are constructed over the course of the HatCHRy before moving on to a permanent team. Both developers feel that the HatCHRy significantly helped them develop their skills. This is an experience that I have heard repeated from all HatCHRy engineers I have talked to.

The HatCHRy was definitely a positive experience with my time at C.H. Robinson. It has bridged the gap between being a new hire and working alongside more seasoned developers. I was able to develop various technical skills and soft skills that I am now able to apply to my everyday work. The HatCHRy is an effective onboarding program that I believe should be more of a norm in the industry. It is a significant investment in the individual and helps to guarantee the success of new employees, as well as the company.