How noon.com built an innovative onboarding program for new developers while working with Manara to source exceptional junior talent locally
Nizar Zarka is VP of Special Projects at noon.com. His first project when joining the company was codenamed CAKE. “We wanted onboarding for junior developers to be as easy as cake,” says Nizar. Nizar oversaw CAKE as noon developed from a startup, reliant on US and European skills, to a confident scaleup, embracing the power of local talent. CAKE has become a model for other companies to emulate, especially as they go up the maturity curve. Manara is a key talent partner for the program.
noon.com launched in 2017 and today is the region’s leading e-commerce platform and digital marketplace, delivering to customers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. noon has rapidly expanded from its initial e-commerce base to offer grocery delivery (noon Grocery), on-demand ordering (NowNow), quick-commerce (noon Minutes), an online payments gateway (noon payments), and various other services.
In that time, its team has also rapidly expanded across the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The engineering team is constantly refining its tech platform, including its core marketplace, as well as its fulfillment, logistics, and payments platforms.
At the beginning of its life, noon relied on skills from experienced eCommerce developers, who were sourced internationally. “The local market just didn’t have the skills we needed”, explained Nizar, Noon.com’s VP of Special Projects Technology. As the company matured, Nizar was drafted in to build up local and regional talent, and transfer ecommerce domain knowledge from senior developers and business leaders to newly joined junior developers.
To achieve these goals, a special three month, cohort-based onboarding program was developed. The program was codenamed CAKE - joining noon should be a piece of cake for junior developers.
When new grads join noon, they enter the CAKE program, are assigned a mentor, and work on special projects with various teams. Each developer has a personal feedback session with Nizar after week three and upon completion of the program. Additionally, they have tech talks from tech leads, a weekly Q&A with the CTO who pushes them to ask questions, and continuous 1:1 mentoring with more senior developers. They also get a deeper insight into eCommerce and an understanding of the business fundamentals.
The CAKE program started with a cohort of just three junior developers: “We got positive feedback, so we iterated, improved, and grew.”
According to Nizar, there is huge interest in mentoring the new grads in the program – an added perk for some senior developers who love to teach. Once they graduate from the CAKE program, the newest team members are matched with a specific team.
What does Nizar look for when scouting for new grads? “When we hire new engineers, they have to have a passion for problem solving. The basics are important: a solid knowledge of algorithms and systems design, for example. Soft skills matter too: great communication, an ability to collaborate, etc. Really, we are looking for those very special all-rounders.”
Aside from creating a clear and consistent onboarding for junior developers, noon wanted to build pipelines of developers from MENA. To do so, they partnered with Manara: “We heard about Manara and wanted to test it out. Our first hire was exceptional and we haven’t looked back since,” explains Nizar.
With alumni coming from over 15 countries across the Middle East and North Africa, Manara provides access to talented junior developers from across the region, securing the perfect pipeline for noon.
CAKE and Manara are complimentary: Manara develops soft-skills around communication, team collaboration, and curiosity, while empowering talented developers and computer science graduates to refine their technical skills. Manara’s rigorous learning environment prepares the graduates for CAKE.
“The developers coming from Manara are among the best in the region, no doubt. They have already proved their work ethic in their time at Manara. When they come to noon, we see an immediate impact: they are fast learners and they have just the mindset we are looking for,” says Nizar.
noon’s engineering teams are rapidly growing, as the company continues to expand. CAKE will continue to be central to technical and cultural onboarding and Nizar is confident Manara will remain one of the main feeder channels for the program.
“Working with Manara is very important because it increases our talent pool of young and inspiring individuals from local countries. They share a drive we desperately need. We feel very proud to hire so many great developers from Manara - both men and women - and look forward to hiring more in the future,” says Nizar.
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VP Special Projects
Nizar Zarka is the VP Special Projects Technology at noon.com. He has a PhD in Computer Vision and has held multiple positions in academia and industry across Europe and the Middle East. He is an active mentor for competitive programming teams, helping bring multiple teams to world finals. At noon.com, he is responsible for creating onboarding programs for fresh graduates.