Working in rotation at DocuSign
At DocuSign we strive to train our new hires to become competent, skillful, and well-rounded employees. This is especially true with the DocuSign Rotation Program, run by Abigail Coons and officially launched in October of 2021. Rotation programs like this one allow new hires to get exposed to a wide variety of different teams and experiences in order to develop employees with diverse backgrounds. The rotation program at DocuSign is currently only for software developers, and therefore has many opportunities that are focused around improving their skills in front-end, back-end, and full-stack development. The program also offers unique opportunities to work on machine learning, program management, technical writing, and other skills that aren’t normally practiced by single-team developers.
If I sound biased about this program, it’s likely because I am. I joined DocuSign in October of 2021 as part of the first cohort of recruits to the DocuSign Rotation Program and have been working with the Developer Content team, or DevCon as we are often called, since November. It has been an incredible experience that has allowed me to develop skills I wouldn’t normally exercise in a strict engineering role.
What is a rotation program?
Rotation programs differ from company to company, but they all have essentially the same format. An employee gets to join a team for a certain amount of time, then moves on to another team. This repeats until the program is over and (in theory at least) the employee gets a more permanent position within the company. These programs can be in any number of fields, but are more common in software development, where having a diverse background of skills has been shown to be a big advantage for the developer.
As Abigail says, “The rotation program is designed to provide folks fresh out of university a soft landing into the business world with the support and freedom to pursue their interests by trying out different teams, and different roles. The true goal is to find the dream team, all while learning more about product development holistically, and creating a vast internal network.
“Another aspect of the program that I love is the ability to increase the diversity of our hires and reduce unconscious bias. By allowing program participants to choose what team they work on, managers and teams that participate get the chance to work with someone they might not have hired otherwise. The program not only helps teams improve their onboarding for new hires, it helps them redefine what a talented dev looks like.”
At DocuSign, our rotation program consists of three rotations of six months each, for a total of one and a half years in the program. Participants are hired early on in their career, typically within a year of graduating college. DocuSign offers rotations in many fields, such as working with our external-facing products like eSignature and our APIs, as well as infrastructure, security, customer integrations, and several other teams. New rotation participants are actively recruited by DocuSign teams and choose the ones they want to work with. Working in these different environments gives the rotation developers opportunities to work in web development, mobile development, automation, cloud infrastructure, machine learning, and many other technologies. In just one rotation alone, I have worked with eight different programming languages and five DocuSign APIs, developed an internal automation tool, edited developer documentation, and by the time you read this, written a blog post. As time goes on, I and the other members of my rotation program cohort will be exposed to more teams and grow as developers. At the time this blog post is posted, the first rotation will be coming to a close and the second rotation for our cohort will begin. Then, in July another group of new hires will join for their first rotation. Notes Abigail, “I am super impressed with our first cohort and cannot wait to see all that they go on to accomplish at DocuSign. I look forward to reporting to one of them in the future.”
Overall, a rotation program is a huge benefit for the employee. They gain skills, learn about different areas of the company, and make connections with coworkers they wouldn’t normally have a chance to work alongside. How does this benefit the company, though?
To start, a team that is assigned a developer on the rotation program gets a brand new entry-level employee. Work can be distributed a little more and there is a big opportunity for projects that have been on hold to be started back up. Proposals that normally wouldn’t see the light of day get the opportunity to be finished. For example, The DevCon team got two rotation engineers this round. This enabled two projects to be kickstarted. I got to work on the development of an automation tool for Jira we call JIRAnator, while my cohort-mate Emily Wang got to build a sample application from the ground up using a few of the DocuSign APIs. Before we came around, my project was on hold and Emily’s was waiting to be assigned to a vendor; neither would likely have been started again for some time unless this team had the extra help. We came into the DevCon team, bright-eyed and ready to help wherever help was needed. Which brings us to the other primary benefit and the main thing that entry-level developers can offer: the passion of someone who just graduated college and is ready to take on the world. Bringing new people onto a team allows for a natural flow of new ideas that could increase productivity and growth.
On a more company-wide level, there are a ton of benefits for having your entry-level developers go through a rotation program. The primary benefit is that, at the end of the program, you have a developer who knows three areas of the company and has worked on multiple technologies and projects. Essentially, you’re creating a well-rounded employee with a diverse background who could likely fit in anywhere at your organization. The employee gets to try out multiple teams and optimally finds one that is a good fit. On the other hand, even if a team isn’t a good fit, the employee only has to work with that team for six months before moving on. In this way, a rotation program can work as a trial period and increase employee retention, because there is a better chance of finding a team that they work well with. Additionally, working with multiple teams helps to eliminate silos and enable more cross-team collaboration. At the end of the rotation program, a single employee will have close connections on three different teams, as well as connections with any employees that work with those teams. Enabling internal collaboration is something that many companies struggle to accomplish. Too often, teams simply work within their bubble and avoid interacting with one another. The hope is that programs like this help to eliminate that and provide people with the connections they need to promote more company cohesion.
A final benefit, if I may say so, is that rotation programs tend to attract talented people. There are many benefits for someone to join a rotation program over a typical position, and therefore it tends to be more desirable. Employees that have joined rotation programs at other companies often go on to become extremely effective employees and do very well for themselves. Having a rotation program in your company can provide a stream of talented and ambitious new hires.
My experience in the rotation program
Although I’ve only been through one rotation so far, I have already learned a lot. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to be in this program and I am excited to see what it brings me in the future. Working with the DevCon team for the last six months has allowed me to learn skills and flex mental muscles I didn’t even know I had.
Now at this point I’m sure you’re wondering the same question that was floating through my head the first time I saw my future manager pop up in a Zoom presentation six months ago: “what the heck is Developer Content?” The technical answer to that question is, “Developer Content is responsible for documenting external content for our developer community, made available on the DocuSign Developer Center site.” The more informal answer is that if you are a developer, and you want to integrate your product, web site, or system with a DocuSign technology, you will need to call our APIs, so you will likely be consuming content written by this team. On the Developer Center site alone, DevCon is responsible for 2200+ pages of documentation for eleven APIs. Examples include the docs for the eSignature REST API, such as API 101 guides, How-to guides, and the API reference. Additionally, DevCon maintains code examples in eight different programming languages, a Quickstart tool that enables external developers to easily start creating integrations, and sample apps that let external developers see API integrations in the context of real-life examples. In short, they write content.
As a rotational member of DevCon, my tasks have been focused around one big project, JIRAnator, the automation tool I mentioned earlier, with any extra time going toward working on the code examples. My task was to give JIRAnator, which started out as a DocuSign internal hackathon project, new life and turn it into a production level tool. In doing so, I would be writing a bunch of requirements specifications, design documents, and how-to documentation. I would also be required to do demos and presentations to demonstrate the effectiveness of the tool. So, even though I was doing a lot of programming, a lot of my time would be spent writing and learning to be a more effective communicator, which is why I originally asked to join this team.
The reason I became so interested in working with the DevCon team is mainly because I’ve struggled as a writer. My experience writing was primarily just college essays, which were pretty consistently given C’s and B’s. Documentation in my code consisted of half-brained informal comments like // This function does stuff and // Fix this later. Overall, I just wasn’t the best communicator, which is a big problem if you aspire to jobs like this one where being able to clearly explain your thoughts and ideas is integral to the development process. After six months of working with this team, I feel like it’s much easier to get my thoughts into words. I’m a much better writer, a better programmer, and, most importantly, I am a more effective communicator. I’m still not an expert writer by any means, but I have come a long way from where I was.
In just six months I have gained experience in skills that I will need for my entire career as a developer. Many developers focus on just their technical skills, never practicing other skills that will be necessary in their career. This is the main benefit of a rotation program: the people in it get to practice skills that would normally go undeveloped.
The DocuSign Rotation Program is proving to be a huge benefit to the company and the members of the first cohort. I’m excited to see what the future holds for this program. If you want to learn more about this program, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or reach out to the head of the rotation program, Abigail Coons.