Instructional engineering at Splunk Part 1: Lessons in technical onboarding

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

When you think of onboarding new tech hires, do you imagine tedious sessions that everyone just can’t wait to get over with? Well, that’s not how they roll at Splunk! Splunk’s purpose, taken from their website, “is to build a safer and more resilient digital world….When organizations have resilient digital systems, they can adapt, innovate and deliver for their customers.” Their technical onboarding programs reflect the overarching mission of the organization by reimagining the journey through the lens of Instructional Engineering to ensure resiliency.

TechKnowCon recently had the pleasure of hosting Gail Carmichael, Principal Instructional Engineer at Splunk, and Rajon Tumbokon, Director of Engineering Enablement, where they unfolded their playbook for ushering in new tech talent.

The magic of Instructional Engineering

What exactly is an instructional engineer? At Splunk, instructional engineers are like the Swiss Army knives in the world of tech education. They’re not just technical experts, they’re wizards in crafting learning experiences. This dual expertise allows them to design training programs that are not only informative but also engaging and tailored to the real needs of engineers.

“Being an instructional engineer means that you have both a technical background and expertise in learning,” explained Carmichael. “If you have that engineering expertise, that helps you build trust with your stakeholders, your subject matter experts, and your target audience…you’ve done it, and you know the terminology…you just get that immediate trust.”

Carmichael continued to explain that in addition to knowing the content already, it also helps that you know how to deliver the content meaningfully to the engineering minds because you’ve been there. “We can more easily make the call about whether we should do documentation versus learning, what training modality it should be, live versus self-paced, all that kind of stuff. Because we’ve lived it….We not only understand what the learning objective should be but also how to tell whether an exercise helps develop or demonstrate mastery of an objective.”

A peek into Splunk’s onboarding strategy

One of the coolest things Splunk offers as part of their onboarding is the immersive Bootcamps. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill, lecture-heavy sessions. Splunk’s Bootcamps are interactive and are designed to do more than impart knowledge; they integrate new engineers into the Splunk culture and community from day one. These Bootcamps facilitate a deep dive into the technical and cultural landscape at Splunk, helping new hires feel connected and prepared to contribute meaningfully to their teams.

Bootcamp that’s more than just technical skills

One of the key strengths of Splunk’s onboarding is the in-depth focus on building a better understanding of the product as a whole, even its history, and what makes Splunk special. During the “Voice of the Customers” segment of the Bootcamp, new hires have the chance to hear customers’ stories and learn how Splunk is helping customers do some good in the world.

“There was a story about an organization that used [Splunk] to stop human trafficking…it needed data from cell phones, from the Internet, all these different places to start to see patterns and try to find examples of human trafficking and help stop them.” mentioned Carmichael. “Those are the kind of stories I really wanted to pull in to really show the power of what our products really are all about,” said Carmichael.  


They knew from previous feedback that engineers had wanted opportunities to learn about the Splunk platform more during their onboardingso, they started to incorporate an “Intro to Splunk Platform” session to get hands on with that core product. They also designed a “Product Ecosystem” session that provided a more technical systems view of the products and how they connected to each other.. 

A culture of continuous learning

What’s truly inspiring about Splunk’s approach is the emphasis on continuous learning and development. They consider the official “onboarding” process to take 45 days, but they see onboarding not just as a one-time event but as a continuous cycle of learning, adapting, and improving. This philosophy ensures that their engineers are not just well-prepared for their current roles, but are also equipped to grow and evolve with the company.

In addition to the Week 1 learning content, Splunk makes sure continuous learning and knowledge sharing take place through opportunities like the Buddy Program, and offering additional learning programs and resources. To make that happen, Splunk utilizes PlusPlus to create blended onboarding tracks.

The role of PlusPlus in Splunk’s onboarding success

PlusPlus provides the infrastructure that enables Splunk to seamlessly deliver rich and interactive educational experiences at scale, but also with ease. Whether it’s managing boot camps, tracking learning progress, sending reminders, or facilitating community interactions, PlusPlus supports every step of the journey, making it a pivotal element in creating a meaningful and comprehensive onboarding journey.


“(With PlusPlus), you create your track with your events and then you can schedule them. We just turned on our Slack integration so it can make Slack cohort channels automatically. And when you enroll someone, PlusPlus enrolls them automatically to the Slack channel. And that’s amazing” said Carmichael.

Looking ahead: The future of onboarding and metrics

There’s still much more to explore, especially around the metrics that drive Splunk’s onboarding success. Our upcoming follow-up discussion with Rajon Tumbokon will delve deeper into how Splunk uses data to refine and enhance their onboarding processes, offering further insights into the metrics that matter most in technical onboarding and how they can be applied to optimize learning outcomes and business impact.

If you’re involved in tech, HR, or corporate training, there’s a lot to learn from Splunk’s proactive and thoughtful approach to onboarding. It’s about making every engineer’s first experiences meaningful and setting a robust foundation for a flourishing career. 

Interested in seeing how Splunk’s onboarding strategy can be applied to your organization, or curious about exploring PlusPlus for your onboarding needs? Watch the full discussion here or visit our product site here for more information.

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