There has been a lot of discussion recently about the role of early career engineers in modern software development organizations. Here at New Relic, we have found an amazing number of truly exceptional candidates looking for their first engineering jobs. However, there can be significant barriers to hiring new engineers, especially those from non-traditional backgrounds, as well as some unique challenges in onboarding and supporting first-time engineers once they’ve been hired.

We believe early career engineers are an invaluable part of our culture and our ability to deliver amazing products. The Ignite program—our upcoming incubator team for early career engineers—is New Relic’s effort to address the challenges of hiring and supporting them, and I am personally thrilled to be the manager of this new team. We believe the program will increase opportunities for early career engineers by reducing cost, reducing risk, and delivering high-performing engineers from the first day they step on to a team. The Ignite program also fits into New Relic’s strategy to positively impact the community by creating a clearer pathway for people to get their first role in a technology company. We recognize helping a wider variety of new individuals enter the field is an important step towards improving the diversity of the sector. And in the long term, the best way to get great senior engineers is to hire great junior engineers and give them the space and the support to grow.

How does the Ignite program work?

The Ignite program isn’t an internship or apprenticeship program—members of the Ignite team are full-time engineers from day one. Their official title will be Associate Software Engineer (or ASE), and they’ll work on real problems and projects, building things that provide real value to the company and our customers. However, they’ll also receive extra support, mentoring, and coaching, as well as exposure to a broad technical overview of the company’s systems. At the end of the program, they’ll automatically be promoted to Software Engineer 1 and placed on another team within New Relic.

We plan to organize teams into cohorts, and each cohort of ASEs will experience the Ignite program in two phases. During the first phase, ASEs will be assigned a general engineering mentor, and will spend their time with different teams in different parts of the company, working on very different technologies. For instance, they might do some frontend work with JavaScript and CSS one week, work on high-throughput, high-concurrency Java services the next, then collaborate with the security team, the site reliability team, and so forth.

We are instituting this rotation for two reasons. First, we believe that it’s valuable for engineers to have a general idea of how the different parts of our technical ecosystem work, even if they’re mostly focusing on one area day-to-day. Second, we want ASEs to experience many different kinds of engineering, and many different team dynamics, so that they can find the things that they’re really excited to work on.

During the second phase, each ASE will identify the area they’re most interested in, such as React and JavaScript, high-volume Java services, or site reliability, and they will begin to focus on that in more depth. They’ll be assigned a technical specialist mentor who works in their area of interest, and they’ll work more closely with the teams using those technologies. During this time, we’ll start to narrow in on a specific team on which to place them and institute a close feedback loop with that team to ensure the ASE is on track. At the end of the program, the goal is a smooth transition to their role as a member of their new team.

When does the Ignite program kick in?

The pilot Ignite cohort is scheduled to begin in April. We’re starting small and ramping up, so the initial group will run for only two months, and the ASEs in this cohort will be transferring from other organizations within the company, so they’re already familiar with New Relic’s products and practices. Providing a clear pathway from support and other teams into engineering roles is another one of our goals for Ignite!

Our second cohort starts in July and will run through the end of the year. The candidate interview and selection process for this cohort has just been completed, and we’re incredibly excited to be working with such an outstanding group of new engineers!

Moving into 2020, we plan to bring in more engineers from both within and outside the company. New Relic has always worked toward a culture of retrospecting and iterating on our teams and processes, and with a new program like Ignite we expect there will be a lot to learn about what works and what doesn’t. Over time, we’ll use that knowledge to refine and ramp up the Ignite program to better serve both New Relic and early career engineers.

John Hyland is the manager of the New Relic's Ignite program for early career engineers. Previously, he spent a couple decades as a software engineer, focusing mostly on networking, security, and service architectures. He believes strongly in the importance of culture and community building for the long-term success of both individual companies and the tech industry at large. View posts by .

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