Jupiter in Lisbon

Jupiter in Lisbon

Our team at work, team Jupiter, recently got together in Lisbon Portugal for almost a week to socialize and work together. This is our first meetup as a team and since the last company wide Grand Meetup our team has grown by four people so this was our first time meeting in real life for a good portion of us!

We have such an awesome and diverse team it was such an opportunity to get together and build better bonds with everyone. We have two team Brazil, two Spanish team members, one from Spain and one from Bolivia. Two Americans but one has been living in the UK for some time. Three people living in Canada, though I’m the only native Canadian. There is also another from the UK but they weren’t able to join us on the meetup. Our team is evenly divided with five women and five men. Four of us have children. Though I don’t contribute to this I believe I counted about 17 different languages known on our team.

The main purpose of the trip is of course to work. We did a series of skill building workshops which members prepared and put on, the main focus was around feedback and giving and receiving it. We have some good followup work as well which we can do async now that we are back to our respective homes.

When we first booked our meetup we had a fair amount of extra space in the deal we received for our accommodations so I helped convince another team to join us as well. Independently another team booked their meetup in Lisbon which overlapped ours by a few days. This allowed us to interact with a couple other teams as well and do a bit of work together.

In the evenings especially, and one day which we set aside, we were able to explore Lisbon and take in some fun activities. Just walking around the city was an experience itself. Such neat buildings many with beautiful tile work, the roads and walk ways done with stone. The city is pretty hilly so we were up and down hills and stairs on our walks. There were trolley cars in some areas which would take you up and down. There was live music being played in many areas by street performers. One day we had a parade right outside our co-working place which we took a few minutes to go and see. On a walk home one evening in the square right in between our accommodations and co-working place there was a group swing dancing. So many little cool moments.

One afternoon we last minute signed up for an escape the room as a whole team. The concept was that we were to follow the clues and solve the puzzles to show we were worthy to join the Illuminati. We were pleased when we finished the room the host came out with a stop watch showing us that we had beat the record in the time it took us to solve it. What great team work!

One of the highlights for me was a pastry cooking class we did together on the morning of our activity day we set aside. One of Lisbon’s famous treats are Pastel de Nata which are a delicious custard pastry. Since I’ve been home I’ve made them twice to rave reviews. There were a couple others treats as well but these were my favourite by far.

We made our way to São Jorge Castle as well. Many of the team ended up here at different times. When I went there were five of us together. We timed it to go up just before sunset so we could have some light but also watch the sun set  from the great view the castle provides. Walking around the castle grounds was impressive, but it was when we made it up on the castle walls where I had to stop and take a few minutes to take in the the whole situation. So thankful!

At home I missed a dance competition where Ella and Caile did awesome. Ella was offered an invitation and scholarship to do a dance tour and experience in either Barcelona or Paris. Unfortunately even with the scholarship it isn’t meant to be. It’s fairly expensive and we wouldn’t feel comfortable sending her on her own so at least one of us would have to go with her. Though it sounds like an amazing opportunity. Maybe another year she’ll get a similar chance and we’ll be in a different position to do it.

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Office Today

Today I was meeting with a friend I hadn’t talked to for a while to have coffee and to chat about working remotely. 

It’s not very often I leave the house to work so I decided I’d head down early and do some work from the cafe. It’s nice to get a change of scenery every once in a while. I decided I’d also try standing to work while I was there so I took my keyboard, mouse, and roost stand, with me. It worked out really well and I got to drink delicious coffee at the same time. 

I think my laptop could use a bit of a cleaning though. 

Automattic Grand Meetup MMXVI

Saturday was the first day I’ve felt back to myself and on the Atlantic timezone since the end of the 2016 Automattic Grand Meetup. So far I’ve written several posts about the trip but wanted to post about my thoughts overall. Talking about the zip line adventure or the wwwp5k only goes into some of the planned fun we do. We also do a lot of work planning, and having awesome discussions.

One of the great things we all do I’ve posted about before as well, our flash talks. Each Automattician prepares and gives a maximum of four minute presentation on any topic they want. With the company getting so big this takes up a lot of time. This year we had four rooms setup to allow four streams of flash talks to be going on at the same time. They were broken up over the week. This means at most you can only see a quarter of the flash talks, but every one is also recorded so you can watch them later as well. I love flash talks. Both watching others and learning a bit about them or what interests them, and even though they make me very nervous, even giving my own.

One of the first days was dedicated a team day. This allowed us to get together in our own teams and do some planning and in person discussion which doesn’t happen very often. One of our team members wasn’t able to make it, and shortly our team will grow by one, but all of us there had worth while discussions and spent time showing each other a bit of our typical work flows to share how we work.

Near the end of the time we opened it up so that we could have a Happy Hour. This was a spot and time where the whole Happiness Team could get together. There were tables setup and seeded with questions to start the discussion. We would then move people around to other tables so you could meet even more people.

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I mentioned we have fun too right? This was at the closing party photo booth!
We had town halls for the whole company where our CEO, spent until early morning hours at the front of the room fielding questions and having discussions with all who could stay up as well. There were lots of other town halls throughout the week which were similar style for different groups throughout the company. Such a great way to get an understanding of where other teams are and what their plans are.

There are also projects and classes which you can signup for ahead of time and spend the week working on. At the end of the week the projects all do a demo day showing what they have worked on. It’s inspiring to see what can be accomplished in such a short time. The classes are all taught by co-workers sharing the knowledge they’ve learned with others. This year I took a class on People and Project management put on by a couple from our HR team and one of the team leads who I highly respect.

One of my favourite parts are the meals. We have an internal site, and now app thanks to one of the meetup projects, where you can keep track of all the other Automatticians you’ve met. This data is used to help assign people to meals with people they haven’t met. Having small groups who may not know each other doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but because everyone is so approachable it almost always leads to interesting conversation where I learn lots. It was also very entertaining to look around the restaurant and see it being almost completely taken over by co-workers. Picture this group in the pictures below spread out in restaurants throughout the village.

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Support at the Grand Meetup

One of downfalls which we are still learning to best deal with is how to handle support during a week when everyone is meant to be learning with each other. In addition to the project and classes some people do choose to do their regular job during the meetup. So for Happiness Engineers that involves doing support. In some years past we have closed our support contact forms with a message letting our customers know where we are and what we are doing and when we will be back at it. This year we tried not to completely close it but leave it open for some of our newest customers on WordPress.com. Other products handled things similar as well.

With WordPress.com support we still ended up quickly getting a large number of tickets submitted in a short time. It was clear we were going to fall behind in our response times. Some of this is expected and we booked time for when we arrived home for many people to spend time answering as many as they can to get caught back up. To make that job easier though we sent out a call asking for people to get together after dinner one night and answer tickets. This ended up being a highlight of the week for me. We had people who don’t normally do support join us. We had people who support other products join us and help answer our WordPress.com customers. With this group of people we spent a couple of focused hours going through tickets and were able to answer a large amount. It was really something to watch and be a part of. There were some pictures floating around, but I wish I had taken a step back and taken one myself.

Since we’ve been back we have been able to get caught back up and ready to start this week strong. There have also been talks already about how we can make more improvements for next year and holidays. This isn’t all coming from the Happiness team either! It really makes me happy to be with a company so dedicated to support.

To finish off here are some more pictures from my trip and walks around Whistler Village.

Worldwide WordPress 5k

During the Grand Meetup one of the events organized was the wwwp5k, a Worldwide WordPress 5k. It’s something that has been going on for few years now where WordPress users can run 5k from anywhere in the world and yet do it together by blogging about the experience. Even though you can do it alone and from anywhere we figured it would be a good chance for a bunch of us to do it together.

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It was a chilly rainy day in Whistler BC, but the scenery was beautiful and the company was lovely. It’s been a while since I’ve done much running and being over tired, wet and cold, so things were very slow. It worked out really well though because part way through I met up with a co-worker who I’ve wanted to spend some time with. It allowed us, through long breathes, to chat and come in together.

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Every time I get a chance to spend some time and chat with one of my co-workers I’m reminded how amazing each of them are. At the Grand Meetup it is even evident without directly interacting with anyone. The level of organization and planning that goes into this event is mind boggling.

Even this event there was about a large number of us who all came together at 7am to run and walk the course. This year it was also arranged that for each Automattician who ran we would donate to Souls4Soles. Just one more thing to make me proud to be working with all these people and for this company.

Zip Lining Adventure

Zip Lining Adventure

One of the activities which was organized while we were there was a zip line tour. Even though I have a pretty bad fear of heights I’ve always enjoyed the idea of sky diving. Not sure I would be able to brave my way through that one, but zip lining through the British Columbia rainforest seemed like a viable option. When I made it to the top and started walking down the first set of stairs I was petrified. The only reason I noticed the hail / rain falling on us was because my glasses were getting covered. Relying on some advice from my smart co-workers and watching a very brave one go before me even though she was just as scared as I was helped me press through.

Like many things it was well worth the bit of initial discomfort. Once I got moving and was able to take in the view it was more peaceful. After the first line I just couldn’t wait to get to the next. The initial step at each line still made me nervous but each one was easier than the last.

Here are some more pictures from my zip lining adventure.

Happy Birthday Noah: A Flash Talk

Happy Birthday Noah: A Flash Talk

Last night I arrived home from this years Automattic Grand Meetup which was held in mountainous Whistler Village in British Columbia. The crisp air, scenery, and mouth watering food all add to the experience, but as always it’s the people that make it special.

One example of this shows itself when I gave my flash talk to a room of co-workers. Public speaking is not my thing and even though the mic was shaking in my hand it would have been a lot worse in front of a different crowd.

Last year I used donairs to share a bit about the region I live in. This year I gave a quick introduction to my family. It was heavily geared towards Noah though. As I explained in a bit more detail during my talk it wasn’t because he’s my favourite, the youngest, or our only boy.

People used to ask us because Noah has three older sisters if we just kept trying until we had a boy. For me I was pretty happy with three children and likely would have stopped there if solely my decision. Growing up with just my Mom and three younger sisters myself I was comfortable with all girls. While Jen likely would have had ten kids, she wanted all girls.

The running joke in our family is that Noah received is name because at the ultrasound where we found out he was a boy Jen screamed out Nooooo, Ahhhhhh! So we just shortened that up, put it together and there we have it, Noah.

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I explained it was because at home he was celebrating his birthday while I was up presenting.

Four minutes isn’t enough time to tell all there is about Noah so I shared just a few things. Things like his favourite pass times which are soccer, basketball, and I’m convinced, pestering his sisters. Talking about butts and farts to get reactions from them. Like the night a few months ago when I told him at dinner I would be missing his birthday this year. It had him thinking about his cake. He decided he wanted a butt cake and he was going to eat a piece of the crack. This received the reaction he was looking for. He did back off this idea when I offered a picture of mine to be transposed on the cake. I guess it was a little too real.

Even though he likes those reactions he’s also a sweet little boy. I knew when I made it home I’d have a hand made welcome home card waiting for me in my office. He also tells Jen and I that when we are old we can live with him and he’ll take care of us. My favourite part is he still loves to snuggle with his old dad.


The date and and time for our flash talks are usually randomly generated. This year I made a special request to be in a big room on Sunday morning which the overworked organizers helped me with. I did this so that I could make as many Automatticians as I could think about Noah on his birthday and help me record a little message so that he knew it.

As it turned out I didn’t get the biggest room and our CEO Matt Mullenweg was scheduled in the same session I was, so I’m guessing there was a large crowd in another room. Both are probably good things based on how nervous I ended up being. A special thanks to everyone who wished Noah a happy birthday with me. He played the video over and over and was very excited!

Evolving Support

For the past while I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to provide awesome support. While there are many aspects to that question I believe at the most basic level is to ensure you are there. Make it so your users can reach you easily and in a timely manner.

The concept itself is fairly simple, but despite that there is a whole industry which has been constructed around work force and scheduling. In the past I haven’t seen the specialized software and people involved be able to properly cover support without having either a lot of down time or a queue of users waiting to contact support. This could very well be related to the companies I worked with, or call centers in general. I think the answer to the problem is much more straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Businesses are always changing, your users may change and their expectations will undoubtably change. What worked before isn’t always going to keep working. Support needs to stay flexible and be able to adapt in order to provide the best support. The same applies to scheduling.

At Automattic we’re pretty well known for having very flexible schedules. In The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun the inside cover of the book mentions “There are no schedules, few meetings, and fewer rules.” That was likely the case when the company was smaller, but not 100% accurate today, especially in support. This quote from the book is more true though when it comes to schedules, “About a third of the company had children, and working remotely helped them manage the logistical challenges of raising children. Much like college students, they could be free to arrange their work schedules to fit their lives rather than constantly struggling with the pull of one against another.”

While we Happiness Engineers still get to choose our schedule to fit our lives, the reality in providing 24 hour support for our users dictates there is now a need for us to be flexible in when we choose to schedule ourselves. Even if it might not be our first choice for hours, if there is time which is under scheduled, we need to bend and fill in that area. Our job is to best support our users, so scheduling ourselves for best coverage is part of our jobs. We don’t ask anyone to work crazy hours, that is part of the benefit of having co-workers across the globe. For the most part we have people who are available to work in normal times for them which could be the middle of the night for me.

Our goal is to actually over staff our live chat coverage so that there is no queue and there is always a Happiness Engineer available. This goes along with what I mentioned earlier about call centers. If you overstaff it means there is down time. Luckily for us live chat isn’t the only way users contact us. So if chat is slow through communication and flexibility we can switch gears a little and reply to email tickets or help out in our public support forums.

This isn’t something we’ve perfected yet, but the goal we are working towards. It also isn’t the way things have always been done, but as our business evolves the way we approach and handle support has to move with it.

One Month In

One Month In

It is amazing how fast this past month has gone by. I had to look back on my blog to double check to see if it had really been a full month. It was really was June 1st that I started in my role as a team lead and here we are at June 30th and almost the end of the day.

There have been a number of times during this month where I have felt way over my head. The group of leads at Automattic are such a smart and dynamic group, like the company as a whole, impostor syndrome has kicked me pretty hard at times. What business do I have being associated with these folks? To prove how awesome they are, and rub it in a bit more, they have also all been extremely supportive and assure they went through the same thing. My previous lead Zandy has been so helpful to me moving into this role and sharing so much good information and her knowledge from her experience.

When it comes to interacting with the team I’m on directly I feel pretty confident. They make things pretty easy and I enjoy being able to interact and talk with each member. Most of the stress comes from me trying to figure out how to organize my time. What is the best things I can be doing to support the team? Then when it comes to working with the group of leads, despite their support, I’m still lacking confidence to contribute a lot in this front. Most of the chats I’ve been on with them involve me being pretty silent and just taking it all in.

The past few days especially seem as though they can be a turning point for me though. They days have gone very smooth and I’ve been feeling on top of things. A big part I’m sure is just time, I’ve been at this a month now, but yesterday I went back to really analyzing my time and how I’m spending it. It forced me to think about my day in advance and then I track at a pretty granular level how I’ve been spending my time. I’m still not sure I am using my time as best I can, but I have a good picture of where my time is going and I’ll continue doing this for a while more. From there I can work on making sure I’m spending my time where I’ll have the most impact.

I won’t go into all the details but I thought I’d give a run down of what my day was like today.

Typically I start my day fairly early. This morning it was about 6:15 am when I first signed on. I started by getting caught up on things that had happened over night from when I last checked on things. Typically this is reading only, I don’t usually respond to anything just read things over. Then I take a break for a bit to grab breakfast and coffee.

7:30 am is when I had myself scheduled to do a session of live chat. When chat was quieter I would also work answering questions in our mobile app support. Always lots to do! I had scheduled for 2.5 hours but I ended up on for just about 3 all together. I love that I’m still able to provide direct support to our users. For one it is something I’m comfortable doing so it is a good confident boost when some of the other things I’m not so sure on yet. Plus I get to have comments like this one I received this morning.

You are a life saver Sandy

After a quick break and more coffee I went into start preparing to have a one on one with a team mate. I reviewed things we talked about last time and the goals they were working on. Double checked to see where they were in working towards them. From there we went right into the meeting. The chat was really enjoyable and we had a good conversation.

Last night I had been sent a request to provide a bit of feedback on one of the team. So my next task was to get that done. It was at this point where I figured I was on the right path. The feedback came pretty easily because I knew them pretty well. I knew what they were working on and where they were in the process.

From there I took another short break to get more coffee, do you see a trend here yet? Thanks to my flexible schedule I was then able to take my oldest to an orthodontist appointment. While I was there I was able to spend some time getting caught back up in slack conversations. The appointment ran a bit longer than I thought so it became clear I was going to be late for a lead chat that was scheduled. I let the rest of the group know that I would end up being late. My lead Andrew tells me not to worry if I can’t join and to take care of family stuff, which is extremely comforting, but I really did want to attend as well. As it ended up I made it back home pretty quick and was only a few minutes late.

Once were done there I took a bit of time to do some organization. There were some things I needed to add to my todo list from the chat so did that and organized some other tasks and added some reminders to my calendar.

Took another break to grab some food and give my teeth a good cleaning because it was time for me to go to my own dentist appointment. It seems the past couple weeks it’s been dentist season in my house. The kids all had cleanings and some then had follow up appointments. We have the orthodontist appointments, and I was having some serious pain. Heat really bothers it so I’ve been making and drinking iced coffee instead. Earlier this week I had a checkup and then was scheduled in today for a root canal. I’ll take this time to say how thankful I am for the benefits plan Automattic provides as well or else I’m pretty sure between the dentist and orthodontist they would own my house by now.

Before I had to leave for the appointment I had a bit of time so I started in on watching a recording of one of the Leadership Workshops that co-worker Simon has setup and organized. This one was on Thinking Like a Founder by Chris Hardie. I didn’t get to finish it then but after my appointment I came home and took one of my daughters to their dance class. While she was there I went to the cafe where I could bot drink a hot coffee again and finish off the leadership session.

This evening I hopped back on to write up a few posts to get feedback from the team on that were followups from the lead chat earlier. So I spread the day out a bit, but I had a couple breaks in there for the appointments which is the great part about having a flexible schedule. Thinking about the day and month in general led me to send this tweet earlier.

The downfall of tweets though is that it is hard to get the full story, so that’s what inspired me to write down the post showing some of the reasons I’m so thankful for my job and just some of the things that make it so great.

If you’ve been here before you probably already know how I’m going to end this off. We’re hiring!

A New Role

A New Role

The past few months for me at Automattic have been simply out of this world. In December I let myself get into a little rut and had concentrated myself almost exclusively on providing support in our Mobile apps. I would spend just about my full day there everyday without a lot of interaction from my peers. It was then I decided I needed to mix things up a little bit.

It started with me doing a rotation to another team. January and February are typically some of our busiest months so I waited until close to the end of February to start. For two months I was able to experience working with another team and supporting other products that I wasn’t very familiar with, VaultPress and Jetpack, with the most focus on VaultPress. They are excellent products for WordPress used to help bring some of the security and features which we offer on WordPress.com to self hosted versions of WordPress. During these two months I learned so much about these products and just about another aspect of Automattic I didn’t have a lot of connection to previously.

Pretty much right when I started my rotation I also offered to help organize my home teams upcoming meetup and project we would work on while we were there. To go along with that I started to help out organizing our weekly team chats as well. Although at times it felt like a lot to balance it worked very well to keep me connected to my team while working with another.

Pushing myself to learn new things and take on new tasks, many of which were not in my comfort zone, was a turning point for me. It allowed me to gain insight into some of my work habits and allowed me to make improvements, expand my skills and develop new ones.

As a team we started the discussion of our teams future. We had ended up being a large group and it made sense that we should split our team into at least a couple of smaller ones and I was asked if I would be the Team Lead for one of them. During our meetup one of the things we worked on was splitting us up into three squads with the idea that if these became our teams it would give us lots of room to grow as we are hiring more.

Since we have been back from the meetup we have been working together closely in our squads but still as one big team and it worked out very well. Being able to attend SupConf excited me and put me in a good mindset to come back with.

As it turns out SupConf was really great timing for me as on Wednesday we made the split. Each of the squads we had broken into became their own team each with a new team lead. It’s a little bitter sweet for me. While I’m both nervous and excited about my new role, I’m also a little sad to see the team I was on since being hired become part of Automattic history. I’ve learned so much from the team especially from Zandy my team lead. I’m so thankful for her guidance and little bit of pushing to get me here.

While I’ve held team lead type positions at previous companies, like most things, Automattic is very different from them. Early on when I was asked about where I saw myself in Automattic or what direction I wanted to head my answer was that I did not see myself in a team lead role. Here a team lead isn’t considered a promotion, just a different role. This makes it possible that if this role and just end up not being meant for each other I could easily move back into my previous role. However, as Automattic is so different I now feel this will be a good fit and that I will be able to make good contributions to our team and Automattic as a whole, while growing myself.

It’s still very new and I have a lot to learn, it’s a similar feeling to when I first started my Trial, just so much information and new things to consider. Thursday morning I got up early and went for a short walk just to prepare myself for the day. I took a couple minutes just to look out over the beautiful view, stand, think, and be appreciative of everything in my life right now, in particular this new opportunity. I’m very much looking forward to this new role though and excited to be working with our team.

 

SupConf in San Francisco

SupConf in San Francisco

This past week I was extremely fortunate enough to travel to San Francisco to attend the first ever SupConf. It was an incredible couple days getting to spend more time with a group of people all passionate about providing support.

The event was organized by the Support Driven community and held at Automattic Headquarters, which we refer to as Hawthorne. To steal a joke which as been used a few times I’m sure, after a year and a half I finally decided to show up at the office.

I had a hard time adjusting to the time difference this trip for some reason. Each morning I was waking up really early and not able to go back to sleep. It seems my body may have adjusted right when I got home, as now I’m having a hard time getting up each day.

It was also tough to try to find the right balance. As Automattic is a fully distributed company it is always a special time when Automatticians are able to spend time in person together. But being at a conference with a group of people from other great companies who are proud to, and really want to, provide excellent support I wanted to spend time talking with and sharing with them as well.

In all the organizers and speakers all did an amazing job and I left feeling energized and excited. I’ll share more thoughts on the conference itself later on but also wanted to share a some of the pictures I took over the trip. I didn’t take a lot but from the little I was able to see San Francisco is a pretty cool city.