Pointless Learning

Pointless Learning

After driving through some of the more boring states and provinces on our way out west I decided I was going to have something to do while sitting in the passenger seat on the way home.

For a while now Noah has wanted a Rubik’s Cube so we finally got him one. I remembered as a kid wanting badly to figure out how to solve one but never putting in the time to do it. There was going to be lots of time on this drive home, so I picked one up for myself as well.

Thanks to the internet I was able to figure it out and can now solve one pretty quickly! I’ll not be going to competitions, but I’m just happy to solve one.

This the first time in a while I learned something not useful to me but it was still fun to do. Who knows, maybe someday knowing how to solve a Rubik’s Cube will come in handy for something.

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Epic Road Trip 2017

Epic Road Trip 2017

Monday evening we wearily rolled into our yard for the first time in a month. It was early morning July 7 when we piled into our SUV and started out on our cross country road trip covering 5 Canadian Provinces and 15 US States.

What wonderful experiences and memories we made. Spending so much time in tight quarters during the long drives, staying in hotel rooms, and a small AirBnB, I was afraid there would be fighting and us getting tired of each other. Thankfully it was the opposite, I believe we are closer as a family now. On the last night of our trip we stopped at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire for an evening walk on our favourite beach and gave some serious consideration to spontaneously extending our trip.

This type of trip just wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Jen and I both working for Automattic. While we did each take two weeks off of work throughout the month, that left two weeks while we worked from the road.

Originally we were only going to have a three week trip out to Alberta to visit my sister, her husband, and my new nephew. When Jen, Caile, and Ella, received tickets to the NKOTB concert in Boston the weekend before we were going to leave, and with Jen starting the new job, we changed plans and booked an extra week at an AirBnB in Philadelphia. During this week Jen and I both got up extra early and worked, then spent the afternoons exploring the area with the kids, to come home and do a bit more work at night.

Jen took the next week off and did all the driving so I could work from the passengers seat while we made our way our Alberta. Jen then did the same type of schedule from my sisters house working early and late, and I started two weeks vacation. For the first time since I started at Automattic I removed my email and slack from my phone and completely disconnected from work, I didn’t even blog about the adventures as we went.

Thought I’d take the time now to highlight some of the fun adventures we had, I also kept a map showing the rough path we took and some of the main places we visited.

Hampton Beach, NH

We both started and finished our trip at this amazing beach. On day 2 we spent the early afternoon there and on our way home on day 31 we went for an evening walk before coming home.

NKOTB Concert – Fenway Park, Boston

Jen, Caile and Ella went on the night of day 2 to Fenway park and in the rain watched Boyz II Men, Paula Abdul, and the New Kids On The Block.

The Liberty Bell – Philadelphia, PA

On day 4 we explored some of the downtown Philadelphia area. We went through Spruce Street Harbor Park, walked up to the Liberty Bell, and then took the kids to The Franklin Institute.

The Jersey Shore

Jen found us an amazing beach at Strathmere, it was huge, beautiful, free, and not busy at all. We spent hours there and ate a picnic on the beach. We then on our way home I surprised Jen by mapping her to Atlantic City where we could walk the board walk and explore.

Fairmount Park – Philadelphia, PA

We spent a few days visiting the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Legoland Philadelphia, and the Academy of Natural Science.

Then on day 9 we explored Fairmount Park. We started out by going to to a community pool but it was crowded and the water was pretty cold. Instead we found Wheel Fun Rentals and rented a bike which fit us all and peddled around the park that way some.

Letchworth State Park, NY

As we started our driving again we stopped at the amazing Letchworth State at the advice of my friend and co-worker Chrissie! We met up with her, her husband, her mother in law, and our other co-worker Sam for some visit and a pizza lunch picnic. I’d never heard of the park before but it’s called the Grand Canyon of the East. It had some amazing views and beautiful water falls.

Niagara Falls, ON

Before we headed to our hotel for the night we stopped to check out Niagara Falls. We had been here when the kids were little but before Noah was born. It was like a water falls day for us, first at Letchworth then these powerful falls.

Marineland – Niagara Falls, ON

We met up with Tiffany and her family, and our friends from New Brunswick on day 11 to go to Marineland! Our plan was to explore the sea life, but the kids ended up having the most fun on all the rides.

African Lion Safari – Cambridge, ON

One of our favourite things last time we were in this area was the African Lion Safari. So on day 12 we got together with Tiffany and her family again and took everyone here. Driving through so close to these animals is really neat. Monkeys climb all over cars, giraffes cross the road right in front of you, rhinos graze on the grass right beside you. This was one of the main highlights of the whole trip.

Air Zoo Aerospace Museum – Portage, MI

Day 13 was a mainly driving day but we stopped to break at the Air Zoo Aerospace Museum. We didn’t get to spend much time here but there were many different old aircraft on display and lots of interactive exhibits to explore. Caile and Ella took a ride in a flight simulator and ended upside down for most of their flight 🙂

Mall of America – Minneapolis, MN

What vacation wouldn’t be complete without some shopping. This I could have passed on but we did get to play some mini golf and had a good time doing that.

Worlds Largest Buffalo – Jamestown, ND

A quick stop on our driving day. I get a kick out of these Worlds Largest type roadside attractions. All I can picture is a town council meeting with a bunch of people sitting around. “What can we do to bring people to our town? I know”, one would exclaim, “let’s build the Worlds Largest Buffalo!”

Photo 2017-07-21, 2 29 22 PM

Sikome Lake – Calgary, AB

On our first full day with my sister Melissa and her family we headed to the lake in a part near their home. It was a warm day and was nice to get to spend some time in the water and just hang out with everyone.

Prince’s Island Park – Calgary, AB

By accident we ended up finding this park right downtown Calgary. We were going to head into the mountains this day but we ran behind and saw there was bad traffic on our way there which wouldn’t give us much time so we changed plans last minute looking for something to do closer. We made our way here and also walked around downtown for a bit to find a bit of an ice cream treat.

Telus Spark Science Center – Calgary, AB

On our way home we stopped in for a quick trip to this Science Center. It was close to closing time so we spent most of our time playing on a pretty impressive outdoor playground they had built.

Calgary Zoo – Calgary, AB

With Melissa and my nephew we spent the day at the zoo. So many cool animals to see. Zoo’s are one of our kids favourite things and counting the African Lion Safari this was our second of three zoos on the trip. The gorillas and penguins ended up being most everyones top pick from here.

Rotary Park – Whitecourt, AB

For day 20 and 21 we drove up north so we could meet with Jen’s Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin, along with her family. My mother in law had been visiting her brother in British Columbia and they drove over here to meet us. We spent a couple days in this park visiting with them with the kids playing on the playground and splash pad. This was the end of my mother in laws trip so we brought her back to Calgary with us and got her to the airport for her flight home.

Heritage Park – Calgary, AB

I had never heard of this place before this trip and Melissa and her family had never been. We could have spent a lot more time here as there was lots to see. It is like an old town with shops, a train, a farm, and even carnival rides which the kids loved. Our next visit out here this will be on the list for sure.

Parks – Calgary, AB

The last couple days we took it pretty easy. We did explore a couple parks, one huge off leash dog park where we could let my fur nephew run and cool off in the river. The other is the same park which had Sikome Lake in it which we went to early on in our visit. But this time we sent it walking along the river.

Worlds Largest Booming Prairie Chicken – Rothsay MN

We had some long drive days making our way back east and didn’t take much in the way of breaks. I had found this place on the map on the way to Alberta but we missed the exit, so we decided to indulge me and on day 26 we stopped here for a quick break to stretch our legs.

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Chicago White Sox – Chicago, IL

Noah has badly wanted to see a baseball game for some time. I started looking for our time in Ontario to see if I could find a Blue Jays game we could attend there. Tickets were pretty expensive and nothing really worked time wise. I tried a few other cities we were in along the way as well. As luck would have it though the Blue Jays were playing the White Sox on our first day in Chicago and we were able to get there!

Navy Pier – Chicago, IL

On day 28 we went down to Navy Pier and started out our day with an Architectural River Boat Tour of the city. It was a really great way to see a bit of it and learn some of the history in a very relaxed way. Once we were done with the tour we went to get a different view from the Centennial Wheel. From almost 200 feet in the air you do get a pretty good view!

For dinner we tried some Chicago Style pizza, and this was certainly some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. It certainly beats NYC style pizza with no contest in my books.

Brookfield Zoo – Chicago, IL

One last zoo visit for our trip. It was a pretty chilly day and some of the family even wore jackets and sweaters for the first time since we left home. It was pretty nice though as the animals were fairly active. The kids also all decided to have caricatures of themselves drawn as a souvenir.

Huntington Beach – Bay Village, OH

Making our way back home we broke up our drive on day 30 by stopping at a beach just outside Cleveland. Unfortunately the water was off limits the day we were there, but we still had fun walking the beach and seeing the Cleveland skyline in the background.

This was an amazing trip and I only touched on some of the main things we did or places we saw. The only part that I wish I could maybe skip was the drive days through Saskatchewan and some of North Dakota. The running joke was about all the hay bales which were about the only things we could see.

Honestly the best part of it for me was getting to spend so much time without the everyday things getting in the way. There was no dance class, basketball practice, or any of the other things which breaks us up in a regular week. We spent time together. We spent time with family. We spent time with friends. We made many memories and so I just wanted to document some of it here to help job my memory if I ever start to forget.

Vacation Coffee ☕️

So far we are having a wonderful trip. Getting work done while exploring some of a new area to us. The one downfall has been a lack of coffee.

Before we left I came very close to packing my aeropress coffee maker which is what I use at home. It packs up small and would have been easy to bring, but I figured hotels aren't going to have a kettle and our Airbnb is likely to have a coffee maker.

The second part was wrong. There is a kettle here at the Airbnb but not a coffee maker. There was instant coffee and I've been drinking it for days. I've been spoiled to be able to work at home and make a decent coffee just about when ever I want,
And I've been missing that.

Yesterday when everyone went into one store I ran across the street to Bed Bath & Beyond and bought a single cup pour over device. This morning was so much nicer! The $3.99 has made a huge difference.

The hotels will still likely either provide coffee, or have coffee makers, but this is small and easy to pack. I'll have decent coffee the rest of the trip now. Speaking of which, I think I could use one right now.

Potentially uncomfortable start to our trip

We started out on our trip this morning for a month long trip across most of the USA/Canada. We're going, in a large part, to visit my sister, her husband, and new Nephew in Alberta. Old enough we just left them in Nova Scotia! They were down visiting but will fly back before we make it there.

The first part of our trip involved taking the ferry from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick. Ella gets motion sickness in cars but on boats as well. So last night I stopped to pick her up some Gravol, anti nausea medicine. When we were a little bit from the ferry I pulled them out to give her some and started laughing pretty hard. I have her the package to read and she got pretty mad at me. I may have had some tears from the situation.

Our Team

Our Team

Another post about my work, I know, I know, but this one is a bit different. I talk a lot about Automattic, the work we do, and how much I love it. The people are a huge part of that, and they are all great. This post is about a small group of those Automatticians though, our team, team Jupiter.

These are the folks I have the privilege of working everyday. We're a team of ten including me, and I'm thankful for everyone of them. Each has their own strengths and skills and compliment each other very nicely. When talking about our most recent team meetup I went into a bit more detail about how diverse we are.

We lean on each other for support, we have fun and joke together, we can complain and vent to each other safely. We can also come together to make things happen.

The end of last week I pitched a half baked idea for something I figured we'd be able to try to have a big impact on the work we do. We takes it over, there were some concerns, but everyone was willing to give it a try. It's early on but already it seems to be having an impact. We've found things that could be better as we go and are coming up with a good process on the fly.

I'm so thankful to this hard working group for everything they do, but feeling especially proud this week to be part of Team Jupiter.

I will never stop learning.

I will never stop learning.

Since I was a teenager I have thought about getting a tattoo of some sort. In the end I always ended up not going through with it as I could never decide something I would be happy with having on my body forever. I’m thankful that I held off as some of the ideas I had back then wouldn’t be choices I made today.

A while back I found the perfect thing to get, something that I knew I’d be happy with long term and yesterday I had it done. It’s the first sentence of the Automattic creed: I will never stop learning.

I reference the creed quite often, whether it is while I am working, or in posts I have written here, but the first sentence is what has always struck me most. Friends and family already poke fun at me because so much of my wardrobe is either WordPress or Automattic themed, but this goes beyond that. Even though Automattic is a fantastic employer I’m not naive enough to think that nothing could happen in the future to make me not feel the same way about it. Long before I joined Automattic I had told people if I could be a professional student for the rest of my life I’d be happy.

It wasn’t always that way though. High school was a rough time and I wanted to do anything but be there. Not that I didn’t learn anything during that time. I learned lots about life, how to have fun, and hard times. It wasn’t the learning I should be doing, but that was a lesson within itself. I won’t make that mistake again and won’t pass up opportunities to learn.

Going forward this tattoo will be a reminder to not let myself become stagnant but to keep moving and learning new things. Accept challenges and use them to learn. When things get frustrating to remember there are answers to be found. Also, no matter what the future brings, to remember the great opportunity I’ve been given and the amazing people I’ve met because of Automattic.

 

Tattoo
I will never stop learning.

So You Want to be a Happiness Engineer, Huh?

So You Want to be a Happiness Engineer, Huh?

Since joining Automattic (and to the annoyance of some people, I’m sure) I tend to go on about how much I enjoy my job and the company itself. I’ve often been asked what it takes and what you need to know to get the job. Especially since I called people to join me in my last post, I thought I would put together my thoughts and some resources which I can point people to or they can hopefully find through searching online as well.

I’m going to go a bit further and not only talk about what you need to do to get the job, but what I think you need to be successful in the Happiness Engineer role at Automattic. Please note that there are a lot of points here and you don’t have to be an expert in all of them to apply, but having a good understanding from a combination of them would be good.

Personal Traits

These are the some of the main things you need to have to be successful in the Happiness Engineer role at Automattic. This isn’t exhaustive and is mostly my opinion, but if you are confident that these things describe you, even if you don’t have the technical skills yet you could certainly do well in this role.

The ability and desire to learn

The first line in our Automattic creed is “I will never stop learning”. It’s one of the things I love most about this role. If you are doing this and find yourself being bored or not learning new things, chances are you’re doing something wrong 🙂 Not only is there just so much to know but our products are always changing and new features being added, or new products being released. We also have a wide variety of products outside of WordPress.com which you find yourself to learn if you ever do get to a point where your learning is slowing down.

Flexibility,  be open to change

This goes along with having the ability and desire to learn: you need to be open to change. At Automattic if there is one thing you can count on is that things are going to change and grow. Changes can be the product we support, how much support we offer for certain parts, or the way we interact with our users. You’ll have to have the ability to roll with these changes, embrace them and learn what you can to work with them.

The desire to help people

This doesn’t have to be specific to WordPress or the Internet, but if you find yourself being happy when you are helping others that is a good sign. In this role you are going to spend the vast majority of your time either helping our users, or helping fellow colleagues.

Empathy

As part of helping people being able to have empathy for them and their situation could be the most important trait you have. If you are able to see things from the other persons perspective you can relate to how they are feeling and show them you want to help them find a resolution when ever possible. Even if there isn’t a solution we can offer, having empathy will help you explain that in a way the person you are helping may be able to accept.

Self motivated

Working in a distributed way, or remotely, the way Automattic does requires in itself that you are self motivated. One of the questions I’ve heard before is, how do you not just watch Netflix all day? If you aren’t self  motivated it would be very easy to sleep in, get up watch some Netflix, go run some errands, and before you know it the day is done and you haven’t done much work.

This is especially relevant at Automattic because each employee is given a lot of flexibility when it comes to schedules and where and how they work. We trust that people will do the work. Given that we are working to provide top notch support to all our users there has to be some organization so you plan your time in advance and communicate that with others. But it is really on you to show up and keep yourself motivated to do the work.

Attention to detail

We are fast moving in support and want to give the best customer experience we can for each user we interact with. Having attention for the details will be a necessity for this. As you can see in the technical skills below there are a lot of moving parts and that doesn’t include areas like billing inquiries where we help as well. Being able to quickly pick out the important details in what the customer tells us, or checking all relevant places in the account before taking an action, will make you much more efficient and cause a lot less headaches in the end.


If you feel that these things describe you but you just don’t have the technical background or knowledge to support something like WordPress or people building websites or growing their online business, have no fear. I’m confident you’ll be able to learn the technical skills needed if you want.

This next section I’ll touch on some of the main technical related skills that you will use as a Happiness Engineer. You’ll need to know these things and be able to explain some of the complex concepts and tasks to users who may not have that same level of technical knowledge. Included with the skills I’ll share resources and activities you can do to help you learn everything right from your computer for little to no money.

It will take time and work especially if you aren’t familiar with the web and how it works, but if you put in the time and effort it is certainly achievable.

Technical Skills

One of the main building blocks for skills you will need is an understanding of websites in general. How they are made, how they live on the internet. WordPress is software that people can use to build and manage their websites. A lot of this technology comes down to HTML and CSS. To me knowing how these languages are used to build websites is the first step.

In this section I’m going to include links to resources or courses offered online. Some of these are free resources you can view right away, some of them are courses offered through sites such as Lynda.com, udemy.com, and TeamTreehouse.com. These courses are ones you would need to buy. Some of the sites offer free trial periods which you can make use of, and the courses themselves are not crazy expensive. You could even find coupons by searching online in some cases.

HTML & CSS

Once again this is the basis of how websites are made including through WordPress. Most of this is controlled by WordPress itself or the theme you install. You’ll need to be able understand how these work to support users. We will often help users customize their sites by adding custom CSS code. Knowing how the site is structured with the HTML and being able to find the parts that need the changes applied and then writing the CSS code to do it is becoming an increasing part of role.

If you’ve never created a website or written HTML & CSS code this is the place to start. Like most of these skills there are numerous places online or books you can read to help you do this. I’ll list and go over a few here.

Introduction to HTML and CSS

This course offered on Treehouse is an ideal place to start. It will give you a good foundation and understanding of these fundamental parts of building websites.

This is a paid course on Treehouse where a membership is $25 per month, but the also offer a 7 day free trial as well.

View the course on Treehouse

Building your first website

This is a free guide I came across which seems to be a great starting point if you prefer to do most of your learning by reading. It is by Shay Howe and you can find it here http://learn.shayhowe.com/html-css/building-your-first-web-page/

Build your first website in 1 week

This is a crash course to take you through making your first website. It introduces you to HTML and CSS and shows how to work with work with the popular CSS framework Bootstrap. Some parts of this will likely be more advanced and you may not need to go all the way through but looks to have some good content. One bonus is that if you follow it through to the end you will end up with a site live on the internet.

View the course on Udemy

More HTML & CSS

There are three more courses on Lynda.com that go more into HTML and CSS.

WordPress

Once you have a good feel for HTML & CSS the next part will to learn what WordPress is and how it works. WordPress is a huge community project, and there are tremendous amounts of material and opportunities for learning out there. My advice is to get a good understanding of the basics and then use it and play with it.

Essential WordPress Training

This is a really good introduction course to teach you the ins and outs of WordPress and how it works. Going through this will give you a really good foundation to start with. From getting started and installing WordPress to writing posts with media. It will explain themes and how to customize the look of your site and how you can extend the functionality with plugins.

View the course on Lynda.com

WordPress.com Specific Information

The course above talks a bit about the differences between WordPress.com and self hosted versions of WordPress with the software available at WordPress.org. The lines are blurring between the two but knowing the different ways to use WordPress will be important. This page gives a good comparison between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

There are some great guides for WordPress.com specifically which you can go through as well.

Use WordPress

The best way to learn WordPress is to use it and play with it. WordPress.com is a great place to start. Create an account and site and play with it. You can use the free plan we offer and use it to create a site or blog. If you don’t want the world to see you can keep it private just for yourself.

Try out a bunch of the different themes. Look at the documentation and the demo versions and work to get them to look the same. This is some of the best practice you can do. Themes have different settings and ways to configure them but there is lots of commonality as well. Getting to know how they work and the different things they can do is extremely important.

Outside of WordPress.com it would be a great idea to setup a hosting account with another provider and and use it to install WordPress. You can find very cheap options, but install it and play with it. Install plugins and see what you can do. You can also use this site to play with some of the other skill areas we’ll go into next.

Domains & DNS

Domains and DNS are some of the most technical things we deal with, and they are at the core of how websites and the internet work. Happiness Engineers spend a lot of time helping users get their domains working properly. Their domain could be registered with one company while their website is hosted with us at WordPress.com, but their email setup with another provider. Working to make sure you have a good understanding of how these work together to make peoples sites and email work and point to the right places will make the job much easier.

How Domains & DNS Work

I’ve struggled to find ideal courses or tutorials for explaining how this all works in a way that is both useful, but not too technical for what we would really need to know. For that reason I’ve written up something using different material which should hopefully be useful.

Sandy’s Beginners Guide to Domains & DNS

DNS, why it’s important and how it works

This gives a good easy way to consume an overview of what DNS is and how it works. Very worth while to read it. It doesn’t completely serve all our needs though.

View the article on the dyn.com blog

Managing DNS Essentials

This course can be overkill but it also covers the basics so could be beneficial. Especially if you sign up for a Lynda.com account for another one of the courses it wouldn’t hurt to go through this as well.

View the course on Lynda.com

Domain & DNS Practice Exercise

Like so much of these technical skills, playing with it and setting up different experiences will help put this together. Register a domain name, set up a hosting account with a different company and point it to the hosting account. This can be part of the playing with WordPress session above. Namecheap.com offers a relatively cheap shared hosting plan which allows multiple sites on the same account. From the domain name you register create a sub domain and create a second site on the account hosting account. Set up an email account through a completely different provider and update the DNS settings for the domain to direct it to that provider. There are free providers you can choose.

SEO

One of the main reasons people want to be online is to allow people to find their information. This could be a business site looking to sell things, or a personal blogger looking to share their thoughts with the world. You want people to come to your site and SEO or Search Engine Optimization is one of the main ways to do that. Knowing the basics of how this works and to give advice to users on how to build traffic to their site is important.

These two resources are great starting places to get the basics of how this is done.

eCommerce

One of Automattics big products is WooCommerce. This is the leading way to sell products online using WordPress. Having a good working knowledge of how this works will serve you well. As WordPress.com makes our Business Plan more flexible and attractive to businesses looking to setup this will become even more important.

WordPress eCommerce with WooCommerce

This is another course from Lynda.com which will give you the basics of how to setup an online store.

View course on Lynda.com

Learn WooCommerce

This is another course offered from udemy.com which also takes you through setting up an eCommerce site using WordPress and WooCommerce. It shows how to setup payment and shipping options, managing orders, and different WooCommerce extensions.

View course on udemy.com

WooCommerce Resources

WooCommerce directly offers a lot of documentation which will help you with the setup process and using WooCommerce to manage an online store.

Conclusion

This is a lot of information to take in and won’t be a short process. It will require dedication and a lot of work, but going through the resources here and experimenting and exploring WordPress can get you ready. I’ve seen people with the good traits at the start of this post but very limited in the technical skills go through material like this and learn what was needed to get hired and do well in the role.

Once you have a good understanding of these skills spending some time volunteering in the WordPress.com support forums will give you a good idea of the questions you’ll get in the role and even let you know if you think you’ll enjoy helping people in this manor and supporting WordPress. Once again, you don’t need to be an expert in all of these to apply, but having an understanding in a good selection of them will certainly help.

If you have questions, thoughts, or additional resources you think would be useful here please feel free to comment here, or contact me, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Post title is a shout out to Joe Burns who’s old site htmlgoodies.com helped teach me HTML back in 1999.