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.
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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.

Old Man Music

Old Man Music

When we bought our new vehicle we received a free trial of satellite radio. During that time we’ve listened to a lot of pop music when driving around with the family. For the most part I don’t mind it and even find myself signing and humming the songs through the day, but I don’t choose the music.

There have been a few times that I try to put on music that I enjoy, things like The Tragically Hip or one of the 90’s alternative stations. Usually it comes with complaining and I switch it off or to something else.

Last night we went to Caile’s middle school band concert. They did a great job on songs like We Will Rock You and George of the Jungle. When the jazz band came on one of the songs they played was Proud Mary.

Ella, Noah, and I left at intermission as Caile was done and they had some late nights so wanted to get them to bed. I thought I’d share with them the CCR version of Proud Mary as it was the last song we listened to and I like it. Ella was having none of it. She started complaining right away, covering her ears, and trying to switch songs on my phone.

Eventually she told me the band’s version was much better and turned the volume down until we couldn’t hear the old mans music anymore. This from the kid who is going to a NKOTB, Paula Abdul, and Boyz II Men concert with Jen next month.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Come Join Me!

Come Join Me!

Here’s a good summary to get you started, but then I’ll throw in my custom pitch below!

Want to be part of making the web a better place? Come work for Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, Jetpack, and WooCommerce. As a Happiness Engineer, you’ll work full-time from your home (with salary and benefits) to help people with their websites and blogs. It’s helpful to have some familiarity with HTML, CSS, and WordPress. Critical is a genuine desire to help people. Apply by following the directions on our Jobs page: https://automattic.com/work-with-us/happiness-engineer/

If you’ve read my blog before at all you’ll know that I love my job. I really learned about the internet when I started working in a call centre doing tech support for an internet service provider. From there I thought to myself why do these people want to be online? What are they doing on there? That led me to making websites which I eventually ended up doing as a career for a number of years. I loved it because I was helping people get online and promote themselves or their businesses. That led me to WordPress as I tried other options but this software became an awesome way to help them do it.

Now at Automattic I get to work for an amazing company and help people get online and make WordPress itself better. Our mission is to Democratize Publishing which to me is a noble goal. More about what we stand for can also be found in our creed. We are a distributed company, meaning everyone works from where ever they live. It wasn’t until a recent conversation I had with a friend talking about working remotely that I realized what a benefit that really is. I’m able to work with and talk to smart people from all over the world. We are a diverse group and I’m able to interact and learn from all these different perspectives.

If you’re not sold yet, I loved the company, the work, and the people so much that I encouraged the love of my life Jen to apply and go through the intense hiring process to join the company as well. I wouldn’t have done that if I had any doubts about this place.

Like any job there are always challenges and things which could be done better, but most is in our control to have input on fixing or directly working to fix it.

If this sounds like a company you’d enjoy working for and supporting some amazing people who use our products than help me in my personal mission to grow the number of Automatticians we have in Nova Scotia. Take a look at the map, we’re behind of many of the other Provinces, but we can catch up. If you’re interested you can still apply even if you don’t live here 😉

Reach out if you have questions or apply directly https://automattic.com/work-with-us/happiness-engineer/

Feeling Bummed

My dancing daughters are heading out to their last dance competition of the season. Last one I missed as I was traveling with work so was really looking forward to our weekend away and getting to see them dance again.

Plans changed quickly this morning when Noah woke up really early not feeling well. We were going to push through though as we figured he was mostly tired from lack of sleep. After breakfast though he was sick all over so that confirmed it. We’re going to have a father – son weekend, though not a fun one. 

I realized that I never wrote about our last one a few weeks ago when we went to see the Globe-trotters. It was an awesome show and we were able to hang out for the whole day. 

At the end Noah was getting some autographs on his basketball and we caught a couple pictures. Ace was our last person to see and he was excited to have her sign his ball. He then turned around so I could take a picture and I could see his face change. She thought he wanted his shirt signed and signed the back in sharpie! He was not super pleased about it. He was scared we were going to be mad about it because writing on our clothing isn’t a normal thing for us 🙂 I convinced him that it was cool but it wasn’t until Jen told him it was cool that he was really at ease.

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.

All out in the open

All out in the open

Yesterday our home moved into a new era. One where none of the kids believe in things like the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy. Just a couple weeks ago Jen and I had been talking saying that it likely wouldn’t be very much longer before Noah was questioning about these things.

As it turns out our 7 year old came down stairs yesterday morning and was talking with Jen. He said you know who comes tomorrow night, the Easter Bunny. He then followed up immediately with, but he isn’t real right Mom? He quickly moved on to other things though and Jen waited until I was around and started the conversation back up with him.

He wasn’t shocked and took it in stride, as if he had always known. “Yeah it didn’t make much sense, I mean the doors are all locked, how would a bunny get in here?” This is the same for Santa too right? It’s just you and Dad.” “Who eats the things we leave out for them?” Later on Jen told me he took a turn with his new discovery telling her that he wanted his teeth back and that he knew she had them.

When I questioned him back about it asking if Jen and I were really that nice to do all the things the Easter Bunny, Santa, and the Tooth Fairy do he very casually said yeah, and reiterated that nothing else really made sense. He’s our youngest kid to ask and that didn’t surprise me a whole lot. He likes to know how things work and there are quite few holes in the stories.

Short Break

Short Break

Today I had a few errands to run. On the way home I decided to grab a coffee and take a short break. It is a beautiful spring day so I pulled off the highway and spent a few minutes drinking my coffee with one of the best views around. 

There’s a little park in Grand Pre which looks over the National Historic site and out to Blomidon. 

I think TAN should give me some free coffee or swag for such good product placement 😆☕️

First Day of Spring

First Day of Spring

The first day of spring was technically a couple weeks ago, but today was the day Mother Nature seemed to get on board as well. It made a great day the sun was out and it was just about 20℃.

The drive to pick up the kids from school was enjoyable, it made good break from work and I could go with the windows down, wearing a t-shirt and sunglasses. Had the 90’s alternative radio station on. It was far from my favourite song but it still brought me back to teenage summertime driving around with friends.

Later on after dinner Noah had karate and was graded to his second yellow stripes on his way to a yellow belt. He was very proud and excited. Master Jim Maloney was visiting tonight as well which made it even more special.

It was still nice enough out at dusk for Jen and I to go for a walk while I was still in a t-shirt! We also got to see an owl in a tree right above us in a tree. Just after we were past it took off soaring away. The phone didn’t take the best picture but it was still fun to see.

Avoidance

This morning Jen called our  youngest Noah out to talk to him for a bit before school. The school library says he has a book out which is overdue but none of us can remember the name of the book and we aren’t able to find the book here in the house. She asked him when he goes to the library today to ask the Librarian if she is able to write the name of the book down so we have a better idea what we are looking for.

Noah wasn’t thrilled with this and was getting visibly upset and coming up with reasons why he couldn’t do this. She’ll get mad at me, I won’t have time, and I might forget. He would just prefer not to deal with the situation or let someone else deal with it for him.

In situations like this Jen and I sometimes compare the kids to us. Who do they get this trait from? Before she could say anything I said to her, this is from me!

When I was really young we moved around a lot. New schools, new houses, lots of change. One morning when I was about five years old at a relatively new school I was dropped off late by my Mother. If I recall properly we were coming from a friends home, maybe in between moves to our own place. It was snowing out a bit and I was embarrassed about being late, I also didn’t want to deal with the conflict and having the teacher  or principal be upset. So instead of going into the school I decided to try following the car tire tracks in the little bit of snow that was on the roads back home.

Luckily after some time wandering around a nice family noticed this lost little boy walking past their house a few times and stopped to talk to me. They picked me up and took me to the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) station who in turn took me to school.

Recently I’ve been listening to an audio book on project management called Project Management For You by Cesar Abeid who happens to be a co-worker of mine as well. He has a section in the book about conflicts and how to deal with them. One of the options is avoidance. When listening to that section it really struck home with me, as that is the way I would most prefer to deal with conflict in most situations, not only in project management.

 

In his book Cesar talks about avoidance being an OK method to use in relation to conflict if the stakes are low. In my example above trying to find my way home by myself made the stakes high. I should most certainly not have used this technique at that time and just dealt with the conflict head on.

In my son’s Noah’s example above the stakes are low. If we left it alone we may find the book and get it returned. However we’ve tried that and so far the book hasn’t shown up so now it is time to deal with it.

When it comes to my professional life, and even home life, I have to push myself out of my comfort zone lots of times to deal with conflict. If there is a tough conversation I need to have with a team member I would much prefer to put it off and see if it will resolve itself. In most cases though the best plan is to address it head on and get it dealt with. It’s my job to help everyone excel at that career, so if I don’t address something which could be detrimental to their career, I’m doing a disservice to them, the rest of the team, and the company itself. The stakes are high in a situation like this so it does no good to avoid the conflict.