Software Development

Bottleneck #06: Onboarding

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How did you get into the bottleneck?

A rising startup generally underinvests in its onboarding course of. The
have to scale up headcount quickly can come about unexpectedly. An occasion
can set off the group scaling – maybe the product took off with
prospects, or the startup acquired an organization or pivoted in a brand new product
path. Shortly, plans change to how many individuals the startup now wants
to realize their new targets, the recruiting group begins interviewing and
making affords. With added stress, you don’t take time to optimize the
onboarding course of. If an efficient onboarding system wasn’t already in place, the
new workers are dropped into groups, assigned some duties, and left to
determine how one can develop into productive for themselves. It’s significantly
problematic if group members aren’t collaboratively serving to the brand new
worker rise up to hurry, there is no onboarding documentation, the code
is unattainable to learn, or the product targets and KPIs unclear. Then new
workers can develop into misplaced, dissatisfied and underproductive. On this
article we’ll discover indicators that your organization is bottlenecked by an
ineffective onboarding course of, and the very best observe options we’ve got
seen work at Thoughtworks Scaleup Studio.

Along with onboarding new hires, the method is utilized when
reorganizing groups. The studio imagine the flexibility to study, fail quick and
refocus is a vital talent for profitable scaling. A nimble startup will
pivot because it responds to learnings and panorama modifications, this includes
altering product group targets and reassigning sources to finest goal the
new targets. To do that simply, we want the flexibility for the reassigned group
members to rise up to hurry rapidly. Many of the capabilities on this
article, will even apply to reorganizing.

Onboarding is a key enterprise course of

Onboarding is usually seen as merely granting entry and doing a set of
administrative duties earlier than handing new workers to their supervisor and
group. It isn’t regarded as an end-to-end enterprise course of. However a
well-run onboarding course of addresses social and cultural integration
and facilitates collaboration among the many totally different capabilities {that a} new
worker has to work together with. The onboarding course of sometimes includes
human sources, engineering administration, authorized, IT Operation, safety,
and product group members. Spanning so many teams means it may be very
disjointed. Optimizing the method is troublesome as a result of typically nobody
owns the entire course of, and you will need to carry all of the totally different gamers

Software program leaders put lots of effort into shaping hiring plans and
supporting recruiting efforts, however typically neglect to offer a lot thought to
how new workers will develop into efficient. We imagine this to be a
mistake, as efficient onboarding acts as a “multiplier impact” for brand new

From a medical perspective, what’s the worth of a brand new worker?
With out correct onboarding, new hires will solely exhibit a fraction of
their worth and productiveness, some as little as 50%. With an ROI at this
degree, you’re much less prone to obtain your meant targets. Leaders are
pressured to do extra hiring, which can improve group
complexity and workload for managers. To keep away from this, we suggest
placing the identical quantity of effort into optimizing onboarding as you
would hiring new workers.

In our opinion the onboarding course of doesn’t finish after every week or a
month – it retains going till the particular person is totally productive. As quickly as
somebody accepts a suggestion, the onboarding course of begins, adopted by a
strong new rent orientation, receiving of laptops and entry to
applicable programs. It continues after they be a part of their group, as they
perform their duties for the primary time, construct relationships with
their group members and managers, and develop habits round their frequent
duties. The final part of onboarding allows an worker to achieve full
productiveness, the place they will contribute to the group creatively, train
others and contribute again into the onboarding course of. This timeline is
depending on position, area and complexity.

Optimum onboarding timeline

To gauge how you’re doing, this desk represents what we observe to
be optimum timelines for a developer onboarding. We’ll clarify the
ideas talked about right here additional in the remainder of the article:

Milestone Accomplished By
Entry to all HR and administrative programs Day one
Entry to workstation and private improvement surroundings is
setup with mandatory instruments
Day one
Firm mission and enterprise targets are defined and
Day two
Full a push to manufacturing for a trivial change, assisted
by peer
Day three
Supervisor has set expectations with worker and given them an
Week one
Paired with colleague on growing an actual characteristic all the best way
to manufacturing and carried out defect decision
Week two
Understood key buyer issues and inner operation
Week two
Developer: Capable of be an “Anchor” on a narrative Week 3 – 5†
Developer: Capable of lead assist calls Week 5 – 7†

† relying on complexity and expertise

Indicators you’re approaching a scaling bottleneck

New folks can’t entry instruments and programs

Most new joinees normally include a way of pleasure and
anticipation about their new project, desirous to show themselves in
their new surroundings. Having to attend for entry to fundamental sources like
the work laptop computer, supply management, group documentation portals, check
environments, software program licenses, and so on. can dampen the spirits of even the
most enthusiastic candidates. Not figuring out which programs to get entry to
and having to chase particular people to learn the way may be very

To identify these delays you may monitor the steps new workers are
taking. Regulate the variety of tickets opened and the quantity of
time it takes to resolve these tickets.

New builders can’t make a manufacturing deployment

A quantifiable metric to make use of is how lengthy it takes a brand new worker
to jot down code, commit and deploy all the best way to manufacturing. This
ought to occur within the first week– ideally the primary couple of days. It
doesn’t should be a fancy process, it may be one thing very trivial.
This metric is an indicator that the developer has their laptop and
improvement surroundings arrange appropriately and has all the things they should
push to manufacturing independently. We discover conditions the place a brand new
developer has been within the firm weeks and even months, and has not
deployed something to manufacturing.

Newcomers really feel orphaned

Particularly at startups, most managers are laser-focused on new
initiatives, they usually have extra work than they will deal with. It is simple
to deprioritize integrating and bringing direct reviews on top of things. New
workers are left to determine issues on their very own; studying programs,
forming relationships, and how one can get entry to sources they want.
Worse in the event that they haven’t been given a transparent purpose, they might find yourself working
on the incorrect factor. The worker turns into an orphan, leading to a lot
decrease productiveness or fast attrition. Cultural issues like this are
onerous to identify. We suggest listening to your managers and suggestions from
new workers. Exit interviews are additionally invaluable information.

An excessive amount of deal with particular person work

When a startup scales by including new workers, this could set off a
totally different mode of operation. It was a small group that constructed the preliminary
product and expertise platform. Every engineer was targeted on constructing
and supporting part of the applying, doubtless by themselves. With the
enlargement into a bigger group, an issue we frequently observe is the tenured
workers aren’t dedicating sufficient time to onboarding the brand new workers
– collaborating and pairing with new engineers, documenting how they
work and explaining the explanations for technical selections, and so on. This makes
onboarding very troublesome.

With the expanded group dimension, goals shouldn’t solely deal with
particular person contributions, however ought to embody how the product group as a complete is
performing. When retrospecting the product group ought to ideally search for
alternatives to assist new hires develop into extra productive. An anti-pattern
we see is planning with people allotted to streams of labor by
themselves, as this removes the chance to switch information.

Not sufficient openness to alter

Whenever you rent new workers, they doubtless include totally different
experiences than the prevailing group (particularly if you’re hiring outdoors
of your private community). They’re going to have totally different opinions and
viewpoints. Too typically we see corporations not benefiting from this. A
typical scenario is that the startup doubtless has a group of “previous fingers”
which have discovered a solution to work, have their very own idiosyncrasies, and there
is a historical past to each resolution. The group is dogmatic in its approaches
and shoots down the brand new concepts of the newcomer. This leaves the brand new rent
feeling unempowered, and never appreciated.

Once more that is cultural and onerous to identify, however some anti-patterns to
look out for are:

  • Present workers hogging the assembly, speaking rapidly, or not
    giving sufficient time for brand new workers to contribute or make clear.
  • Being overly protecting of the established order; taking pictures down concepts –
    “we tried that”, “it may by no means work right here…”.
  • Again-channeling by unofficial channels; tenured workers
    would possibly get work accomplished by their established community doing them a
    “favor”, fairly than by a documented course of.

Seemingly easy issues take too lengthy

The effectiveness of your improvement surroundings for frequent duties
shall be uncovered when onboarding new workers. The friction could have
already been felt by current workers, however including extra magnifies the
drawback. Every new worker should learn to clear up frequent
issues and uncover workarounds. Examples is perhaps flaky automated
exams, inaccurate documentation, gradual private dev surroundings,
environments which can be outdated, or a gradual dogmatic code evaluation
course of. We are able to monitor a few of these issues by monitoring low degree
metrics (e.g. CI construct time, PR evaluation time, unit check run time) and
tech debt gadgets that groups are highlighting as friction.

Quick turnover

Turnover fee of newcomers is a lagging indicator. There is perhaps
many causes for a excessive turnover fee. Nonetheless it is price
investigating. It may very well be associated to your onboarding course of. It may
be that your new workers aren’t being correctly educated, and welcomed
within the firm. Your group ought to monitor the speed and the way it’s
trending, complement with surveys after 6 months and a 12 months for brand new
workers. You may then use the learnings to enhance the onboarding
course of regularly.

Documentation cannot reply questions from new hires

New hires, particularly lateral hires, normally know what must be
accomplished at a excessive degree. Nonetheless, idiosyncrasies of the brand new surroundings can
get in the best way of finishing even mundane duties. For instance, not
figuring out the placement of the supply repositories or the bottom URL to the
integration check surroundings. Effectively-structured onboarding documentation
can assist enhance productiveness, construct confidence and usually present a
nice working expertise. To repeatedly enhance and preserve the
documentation updated, new hires ought to be inspired to search out bugs in
it and repair them.

How do you get out of the bottleneck?

When you find yourself desirous about designing your onboarding course of it is a
good first step to suppose holistically about worker effectiveness. In
the next options part we’ll describe how one can create a path
to effectiveness, an instance of onboarding optimization utilized at
Checkr, after which some methods we view as vital.

Create a path to effectiveness

In maximizing developer effectiveness
Tim talked concerning the concept of specializing in outcomes fairly than outputs,
and the way engaged workers can create essentially the most worth for your corporation
and your buyer. Empowered workers aren’t merely coding a
requirement, designing to a spec, or creating options primarily based on requests
from a gross sales group. They’re considering creatively about the issue house,
arising with value environment friendly, scalable and modern options. Let’s
take a look at what an empowered worker wants, and the way onboarding would possibly allow


How onboarding allows it

Clear view of the corporate mission and enterprise targets

ought to construct pleasure for the mission, outlining what led to its
creation, what the longer term would possibly maintain, and the way an worker can
contribute to that. This could embody a view of the present product

How does the corporate make cash (or intend to)?

To instill a enterprise sense and a deal with frugality, new workers
ought to understand how the corporate at the moment expenses for his or her companies, its
profitability, and its degree of funding.

Empathy for the shopper’s expertise

Set an expectation for all
workers to consider the shopper. We are able to emphasize this by a
variety of actions – observing the shopper utilizing the system, utilizing
the system as a buyer (if attainable), and studying prior analysis
into buyer issues.

An understanding for inner operations

Most software program programs
have totally different customers (past the goal buyer). It’s vital to
perceive all of these points, in order that technologists can design
options that make these inner customers environment friendly. That is
significantly vital at scale

Enterprise area understanding

Many enterprise domains are fairly
complicated. Understanding occurs over time, however we will begin with
overviews from an professional, and urged readings

Working relationship with their group

To be able to have open
conversations about considerations and concepts new hires want a degree of
familiarity and vulnerability with their friends and supervisor. Onboarding
ought to embody actions to allow this. It is tougher to do
remotely, so we suggest groups getting collectively in particular person throughout the
first few months of a brand new rent becoming a member of.

Clear understanding of their goals

An empowered worker
wants a objective, they should know what their firm would love them
to realize, and the way they’re going to be assessed in the direction of that

Present group topologies

The brand new rent ought to have a transparent
understanding of the possession of merchandise and programs and whom they
can discuss to get info. An up-to-date org chart with the place they
sit in it is important. Deliberately organising some 1:1s throughout the
first weeks is an efficient solution to encourage communication throughout groups and

How expertise is leveraged

Each startup makes use of expertise to
innovate and scale, so all workers ought to have a base degree of
understanding. We don’t imagine it’s efficient to divide roles into
‘technical’ and ‘non-technical’; some roles are simply ‘extra technical’
than others.

There shall be role-specific wants. A developer wants know how one can:


How onboarding allows it

Write code and push to manufacturing

An surroundings that is
totally setup and dealing, with entry to deploy, they’re capable of do it
independently. The surroundings offers them confidence that it’ll discover
high quality issues, and permit them to rollback safely.

Debug and repair manufacturing issues

Entry to clear observability
that spans programs. This could embody documentation, runbooks and
walkthrough movies of typical duties.

Perceive current code, structure, and

Efficient information administration system, entry to all supply code
repositories, entry to dependent groups and information switch with
teammates and SMEs

Measure the progress of their options

Enterprise and product
analytics, and likewise technical metrics (efficiency, availability,
value, high quality measures). It ought to embody potential to experiment with
options (prototypes, A/B exams) and entry to qualitative

Whereas this text is generally geared toward builders, we will increase the
ideas into different roles. A product supervisor would possibly want:


How onboarding allows it

First-hand expertise with prospects

Begin with an introduction
to key prospects. Additionally, product managers want the house to construct
relationships; we generally discover that the founder desires to be the
conduit, which might make it troublesome to get unfiltered

Articulate present product technique

A brand new product supervisor ought to
be capable of rapidly perceive the present technique, the related
alerts, what the present product bets are, and in the event that they’re

Discover and entry analytics

Ideally that is self-service and
exploratory, fairly than having to request reviews. This contains
product, behavioral, monetary, advertising and gross sales metrics, and
system efficiency metrics.

Be taught from earlier bets and inflection factors

The product is
at the moment designed a particular manner for a variety of particular causes
(which might not be apparent). To be able to efficiently evolve the
product, it helps to know why it is the best way it’s.

Construct experiment prototypes and “mess around” within the

Typically product managers don’t have the entry they should use demo
environments or the sources to create prototypes

A designer would possibly have to know how one can:


How onboarding allows it

Entry tooling to create lo-fi and hi-fi belongings

Along with
the polished product, a designer ought to be capable of simply create
clickable prototypes, and be capable of conduct consumer testing with them
with out a lot ceremony.

Discover and use branding pointers and design programs

To make sure
consistency and make designing and implementing UIs simpler, these
ought to be accessible and nicely documented. The maturity of those
programs will rely upon the maturity of the startup, evolving from a
shared design file to a dwelling element library.

Uncover earlier consumer analysis

Recordings of earlier consumer
testing, interview documentation, and synthesized analysis output
ought to be accessible and saved in an organization information base fairly
than in private silos.

Carry out A/B exams and entry behavioral analytics

The consumer
interface ought to be instrumented so {that a} designer can get as a lot
perception as attainable in a self-service manner. A lot of A/B testing
frameworks enable for unbiased launch and evaluation with out
developer assist for sure kinds of modifications.

This listing is an instance and never meant to be exhaustive; we recommend
you take a look at the goals and the “jobs to be accomplished” on your roles in
the context of your organization.

As an example how this works in actuality, we’re going to use the
instance of Checkr

Case Examine: Checkr

Checkr, an HR expertise firm
powering the way forward for work, partnered with Thoughtworks on
scaling between 2018-2020. Whereas engaged on their structure, high quality
and platform engineering, Thoughtworks consultants observed the
effectiveness of Checkr’s onboarding course of. When Checkr grew past
the preliminary group, they invested in making a structured onboarding
course of for all workers. The method was designed to construct empathy for
their prospects, perceive the enterprise, and convey workers to
productiveness as rapidly as attainable. Considered a vital functionality
by Checkr management, their onboarding course of allowed them to develop from
30 to 300 engineering employees. Regardless of their success, Checkr continues to
evolve the method as they accumulate suggestions, and check out new concepts.

Cross-functional onboarding week to grasp the mission, and
construct empathy

Every month, Checkr ran a week-long onboarding “bootcamp” for all
new workers. The purpose of the bootcamp was to supply workers a
holistic understanding of the corporate and product by listening to from
management and from different groups throughout Checkr. Members from different
capabilities similar to buyer success, finance, product and engineering
would evaluation group processes and product use instances with the brand new

Together with the cross purposeful overviews, new workers got
additional alternatives to construct buyer empathy and perceive the
drawback house that Checkr aimed to resolve. New workers would go to
the native courthouse to tug a file as a part of a buyer’s
background test and sit in on a buyer assist name because the buyer
success consultant used Checkr’s instruments.

Initially, cohorts had been round 20 folks however grew over time. An
extra advantage of the bootcamp was that new workers rapidly
constructed an inner community. Checkr’s Director of Engineering Krista
Moroder stated: “I nonetheless use the preliminary community I made – one in all my
onboarding buddies continues to be one in all my first factors of contact within the
Authorized division.”

After the bootcamp, they carried out a role-specific 2-day workshop
adopted by onboarding to their respective groups.

Path to productiveness for a developer

The worker would have entry to all of the companies and instruments they
want from day one. Engineers can arrange their private improvement
surroundings with a script in a number of hours. Checkr has a acknowledged purpose
{that a} new worker ought to deploy on day one, however if truth be told it
modifications group by group, on common it’s throughout the first week. They’re
at the moment shifting from a laptop-based developer surroundings to a cloud
primarily based strategy, with the goal to hurry up onboarding, due to the
added capability and simpler configuration administration.

Quite a lot of groups will use pair programming, which suggests a brand new
worker can bounce straight into pairing on no matter process is the main focus.
Krista talked about pair programming

“Thoughtworks was the catalyst for the pair programming on the group
I initially led. The first motivation was to cut back high quality
defects, cut back context switching, improve shared information, enhance
cycle time, and preserve folks related and engaged once we went
full-remote throughout the pandemic. Groups use a mannequin the place engineers
select pairs for the day when the day by day standup ends.”

At Checkr they use a “you construct you run it” strategy, the place every
developer is predicted to assist the programs their groups personal. To study
how to do that, after 1-2 months of becoming a member of, a brand new developer will
begin by co-piloting the on-call assist with a colleague. They’ll
sometimes resolve an issue independently after 2 months for an
inner product, or 3-6 months for a client product, relying on
seniority. For Krista “a productiveness indicator is that their supervisor
or a tenured developer trusts the brand new developer to resolve complicated
points finish to finish.”

High quality Awards and Studying Weeks

Onboarding is partly concerning the actions that occur when somebody
joins, it is also concerning the making a tradition that leads folks to
effectiveness. Checkr needed to encourage a steady studying
tradition, the corporate has run participant-led “Studying Weeks” 2-3
occasions a 12 months, every time with the intention to deal with a special
functionality, like infrastructure or high quality, for every week. Surveys are
run earlier than the camps, to grasp present gaps in information. These
weeks provide an opportunity to study from friends. In a super world,
everybody would share experience regularly. However in a busy startup,
that doesn’t all the time occur. Studying Weeks set the intention, and
helps folks develop into comfy with asking for assist and sharing

An vital a part of Checkr’s common all fingers is the High quality
Awards, the place people are nominated by their friends and acknowledged
for his or her contributions. As a substitute of simply celebrating typical
milestones like product launches, persons are acknowledged for excellence
in documentation, testing, deprecation and refactoring. This
emphasizes a tradition of constructing pleasure round excessive technical
high quality, and of peer assist.

Past the preliminary onboarding interval, the group sends surveys
often to evaluate the entire course of. This helps them monitor whether or not
their processes are efficient and have set a basis for fulfillment in
the corporate.

Embrace new hires within the firm tradition

Bringing in new folks to a startup carries the chance for
higher range in ideas and concepts. The expertise and information of
new hires will make our merchandise higher, applied sciences extra modern
and processes extra environment friendly. To have the ability to actually leverage these new
hires does require work from the present group to combine them
correctly. It is troublesome for a brand new rent to attach and contribute to
the prevailing group with out the correct surroundings. The prevailing social
capital and status of the prevailing group is intimidating. If we will
encourage the brand new workers’ voices, they’ll be capable of communicate up and
recommend new concepts with out worry of being shot down.

Creating this protected and weak house is troublesome. From day one,
beginning with new rent orientation, the brand new worker ought to really feel like
they’re a part of the corporate’s mission and may contribute to its
evolution. Leaders can begin by setting an instance in how they work together
and set the rules of the corporate. It’s going to come right down to particular person
interactions. We suggest instilling a tradition of being aware to
others, being conscious of how others are performing and feeling, particularly
throughout the onboarding interval.

Nail the post-offer and first-day expertise

It is stated that you just by no means get a second probability to make a primary
impression, and this definitely applies to onboarding. Onboarding begins
with the primary interview. The way in which interviewers work together with candidates
will start to set a precedent for a way they understand the corporate’s
tradition and the way they need to behave. From then on, the experiences on the
first day, first week, first month and past matter and could have a
super affect on whether or not they’ll succeed and be blissful.

Due to this fact, the time main as much as the primary day of employment may be
very vital. As soon as the candidate accepts the supply, be sure that
there is a clear level of contact (ideally an e mail group as a substitute of
a person) for the brand new worker to hunt clarification.

All of the instruments an worker wants ought to be out there by way of self-service
and accessible on day one. Nobody desires to spend the primary few weeks
enjoying “whack-a-mole” creating tickets for all of the permissions they
want – This contains having IT programs that auto-enroll workers with
advantages, efficiency monitoring, payroll and information repositories.

An onboarding guidelines generally is a helpful solution to information workers on
their first day. For instance, at Thoughtworks new hires are given their
personal Trello board with onboarding duties. All duties have step-by-step
directions and speak to info for additional help, and are
prioritized within the order they need to be accomplished. This provides new hires
a prepared reckoner to finish fundamental duties like organising direct deposits
to their wage account, and likewise extra complicated ones like organising
their work laptop computer. As well as, it permits them to trace how they’re
progressing in opposition to frequent duties all on their very own and how one can hunt down

Determine 1: Thoughtworks’ onboarding guidelines

New hires are assigned an onboarding buddy to assist them by it.
To make this much more seamless, we’ve got a “First Yr Expertise” chat
group the place new and seasoned workers alike pose questions and get
assist. It isn’t unusual for even long-tenured workers to proceed
utilizing it for a number of months after they be a part of and is quoted as one of many
most preferred points of the general onboarding course of.

Spend money on self-service information administration

It is stunning how a lot proprietary information may be rapidly
gathered. Concepts or approaches is perhaps nicely understood from earlier
classes, however by no means written down. If we don’t take the time to doc
issues, it will probably make the primary months irritating for brand new workers. We
subscribe to the agile precept of “Working software program over complete
documentation”; software program code ought to be readable however there’s nonetheless a
want for some focused documentation. Greatest practices embody:

  • Up-to-date succinct technical documentation round libraries, API,
    dependencies and integrations – A suggestions loop to the technical
    homeowners dramatically improves the usefulness and freshness of
  • A taxonomy and a central seek for documentation, to reduce the
    period of time to search out info
  • Shared rules and practices: an understanding of how a group
    sometimes operates helps a brand new worker alter to a brand new tradition.
  • A file of historic technical and product selections permits for
    higher context behind thought processes.
  • Write-up of post-mortems of degradation of service. All issues
    are studying alternatives, and documenting the issue and mitigation
    helps keep away from future issues.

Thoughtworks’ Smart Defaults

Through the years, Thoughtworks has gathered a set of practices,
patterns, pointers and a group of basic good recommendation that has
made us profitable. Localized design-making and autonomy is essential to
Thoughtworks’ tradition, however we needed to supply a “paved highway” for
lateral workers to start out from. This contains defaults for numerous
colleges similar to builders, architects, enterprise analysts, product
managers, program managers, and government stakeholders. Every of those
even have their respective chat, e mail teams and communities the place
anybody can ask questions, solicit suggestions, share concepts and problem
the established order.

The event smart defaults embody a documentation round a
variety of key practices. Some examples embody

Frequent and steady integration

Check Pushed Improvement (TDD)

Pair improvement

Construct safety in

Quick and verified automated construct

Automated deployment pipeline

Early and steady deployment

High quality and debt successfully managed

Construct for manufacturing

Quick Suggestions

Quick suggestions means having the ability to discover out whether or not a change has been
profitable in moments not days. It is perhaps that unit exams have handed,
or that we have not damaged manufacturing, or {that a} buyer is pleased with
what we have constructed.


Repeatability is the boldness and predictability that comes from
eradicating handbook duties that introduce bizarre inconsistencies. We additionally need
to spend time on actions which can be extra vital than troubleshooting
one thing that ought to have simply labored


We wish software program that accommodates no extra complexity than it must do
job. We construct for what we want now, not what we predict is perhaps
coming. However we make selections that enable our software program to quickly change to
meet the necessities which can be coming.

↑ Deployment Frequency


↓ Lead Time for modifications

↓ Deployment Frequency

We’re releasing this text in installments. The ultimate installment
will take a look at the position of pair programming, private surroundings setup
and eradicating friction from the onboarding course of..

To seek out out once we publish the following installment subscribe to the
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