Dial-up Internet

Dial-up Internet

Sometimes I miss the beautiful singing of dial-up modems communicating with each other and negotiating the terms of their courtship.

A brief thread in Slack at work had us joking about old technology, even though some of it isn’t all that old, but it had me try to be poetic about the days of dial-up internet. The sound really does hold some nostalgia for me. I remember the first time I heard a modem dial-up and connect with another computer on the other end. At that point, I didn’t understand what was going on and how it was working, but listening and then seeing information slowly appear on the screen from out on the Internet was special.

My career in support and technology started by providing support over the phone for an Internet Service Provider. People would call us up when they were having problems dialing up and connecting. Init strings, disabling call waiting, removing those splitters and dollar store phone cord, and uninstall and reinstall dial-up networking, were all familiar things we’d do so people could hear that sound.

The Internet has changed so much since then but people are still using it to connect, and I’m still earning my living by helping them to do it. It’s just a little less noisy.

Three Years

Three Years

A few days ago I had a mini little celebration by myself. It was my three year anniversary of joining Automattic full time. It’s crazy to me that it’s been that long and at the same time it feels like I’ve been here forever.

This is the longest continuous full time job I’ve ever had. That’s saying something for someone my age who started working before I became a teenager. Unlike other jobs I’ve had I haven’t once looked for another job anywhere else. There is still so much I can learn and so much impact I can have on the company itself. There are challenges, frustrations, and things I struggle with, but nothing that makes me hate the job.

While I believe in the mission and the creed, my favourite part is that Automattic has introduced me to so many colleagues who I now consider friends. These are truly amazing people who I very much look forward to hanging out with and working together in person when able. Traveling to different places is all well and good, but I could never leave a hotel and still have an amazing time.

Though sometimes hard to balance I’m especially lucky because I’m essentially on two teams. There is my smaller direct team Jupiter who I work with. It has grown and then shrunk, and now growing again over this past year. They are patient with me as I grow, hard working, and just fun to interact with. There is also the group of WordPress.com Happiness Leads who I get to work closely with. Such a smart and dedicated bunch. I’m humbled to be able to work and learn from, and with, them.

These are the people I work the closest with, but everyone at Automattic who I’ve been able to interact with is helpful, friendly, and smart.

As long as they don’t get sick of me, I’m looking forward to many more years of working here and being able to publish posts like this.

Failure

Feeling an overwhelming sense of failure these days. I’m generally ok with failure and making mistakes. Failing is a leaning opportunity.

Most of the time though there are there is usually a mix in my life. Some areas where I feel I’m succeeding but others not so much. This is ok I can concentrate on the things going well and make effort to fix the areas I’m failing. 

Right now I’m having a hard time seeing the successes. Parenting, career, health, finances, all of these areas of my life which need serious work. 

Overall I know my life is privileged which makes me failing in these areas all the more painful. 

Excited for SupConf

Yesterday I did something extremely exciting, I booked my flight and accommodations so that I can attend SupConf! Previously I’ve written about choosing support as a career, and about how we can make support cool. The community behind SupConf, Support Driven, and the conference itself is a great way to help accomplish this. If you are in support, and are passionate about it, I highly recommend checking out both Support Driven and SupConf both.

Some of my colleagues at Automattic are helping organize the event, and some are also speaking. The line up of speakers and topics looks amazing in general. I’m very much looking forward to spending time with people from a bunch of different companies all dedicated to providing excellent support.

The icing on the cake is that the venue is Automattic HQ in San Fransisco. Getting to visit the company office is pretty neat. To get to visit it while learning and participating at SupConf so I can take home new ideas to help bring happiness to the people who use our products is awesome!

Making Support Cool

Today I’ve been thinking a bit about support as a career again and wondering why so many people think of it like a entry or lower position. Besides one of the big reasons that I talked about before I think there are other things that come into play here as well.

One of the huge things is that being able to code has become very cool. In the case of Automattic two of the largest groups of employees we have are developers and support. In the media, and particularly tech media, it’s the people making the products that have become the rock stars. Either making something from scratch, finding a bug and fixing it, or conceiving a new feature and bringing it to life for tonnes of people to use, has to be very satisfying. Come on, that is cool! Why wouldn’t you want to aspire to be able to do that?

Another reason is most of my fellow Happiness Engineers are problem solvers. We want to fix things. If that happens to a bug or an improvement to our products how great would it be to go and fix it on the spot if a customer brings it to our attention. During one conversation someone pointed out to me a typo on one of our support documents. While we were talking I opened another window and fixed it. Even that tiny change impressed them and felt very good to me to have the power to resolve it.

There is no reason though that both developers and support roles can’t both be seen as cool. Support is cool and we should all be rock stars too. How do we turn things around and show the world how awesome support is? With coders they have that almost tangible result of their work. Look, see that? That’s what I made today. Maybe one of our tangibles could be all the hugs we get from users. There are not many days that go by that I don’t receive some sort of amazing feedback from someone I’ve talked with because either I or my colleagues have helped them. That is a powerful gift.

If we are doing our jobs well we could also say things like this: See this change? While talking to a bunch of people I knew there had to be a better way to do this, and after working with our developers here it is. Another scenario could be: While chatting with people it really seemed that this new feature would really help them accomplish their goals. Start that conversation and then become the champion behind it getting built and out there for everyone to use. We might not be the ones actually building or making, but we should be able to point to all kinds of examples where we’ve influenced the products based on our conversations. That to me is cool!

It’s up to us to help show the world that being in support is both awesome, and a viable career option in the right environment. How do we do that? Let’s find ways to show how rewarding and important great support is. If we can do that we can draw even more people into this career. That means more great co-workers and it could convince more companies to invest and make support a more prominent role with them.

Support as a Career

When I get home and can really reflect I’ll post a better and more full recap of my first Grand Meetup with Automattic. For now I want to talk about something great that has happened for me here. I’ve had a bit of an epiphany thanks to two town hall sessions I’ve attended. One was company wide and one specific to our happiness or support section. Not sure if it is exactly an epiphany, because I really knew it already, I think I just forgot it a little. This allowed me to bring it back in to focus. Now I need to live it even better.

When I came to Automattic as a Happiness Engineer in the back of my head I kind of thought it would be fun to use it as an “entry” position and work my way into a development role. In the past I’ve had development roles, specifically web development roles, that I could likely put to use here. I’d never pretend that I’m anywhere near the calibre of the developers we do have, but I thought I could learn from them. The funny part is the jobs I’ve always been happiest at have been the ones where I’m providing support.

If I’m happiest in a support role, why do I want to move to something else? After the questions and answers in the town halls I think it is because of my biases coming from other companies where support really is an entry level position. It’s not something that the companies I worked at treated as a serious and important career option. It was usually seen as a necessary, yet evil, cost centre. Not at Automattic. Support is seen as an important bridge between everyone that uses our products and the products themselves. Every conversation we get to have with the people who use our products is an opportunity to learn and makes things better. This is exactly the career I’ve been looking for.

There are some things I need to work on though and personally need to get better at. Taking the conversations I have and helping find where things can be made better and communicating that is currently a weakness. There are many parts I already feel I do well though. When I find something that is broken either through testing or from a user I can work with our developers to let them know so they can get it fixed.

While I can read code and understand it, I could spend a lot of time trying to dig through the code to find exactly where the bug is, but really these developers know the code a lot better than I do. It would be a lot more efficient if I instead worked on my bug and deficiency reporting so that I made the reports as helpful as possible. If I do that, they’ll be able to find where the bug is a lot faster than I could and they also can it fixed. The time I would spend looking would take me away from having other conversations with people where I can have a much greater impact in the long run.

Coding is still fun, and I’m not going to stop. In fact while here I took a course on JavaScript as there is a feature I would like to see, so I’m going to try and build it. But that will be in my spare time, as the hobby it really is for me now.

There are so many things I will be taking away from this Grand Meetup, but I think this will be the most important thing. It has helped me refocus on my career here and will help me approach interactions from a different mindset. It will be a lot of work and I know I won’t be able to do it overnight, or be perfect at it, but I’m going to work at being better.

Career Balance, Money vs Happiness

From a young age I’ve been finding ways to make money for myself. I grew up in a family of four children with my single Mother. She is an amazing Mother and raised us all well. Some of the choices she made to ensure that she could be there to care for us and shape us into the people we are now had the side effect of us living off little income. At one point when I was old enough to realize we were on social assistance but still to young to comprehend I remember being ashamed of it and told her so. Her response to this was perfect and I’ll never forget it. “The government essentially pays me to make sure that you and your sisters grow up to be good, tax paying citizens in the future.”

We never went without, but we didn’t have money for extra things. Extra things I had to figure out how to get for myself. Though she always supported me and helped me with any of my crazy ideas. At a very young age I remember getting the idea that my mothers “Sticky Buns” were the best dessert in the world and I wanted to sell them. So she taught me how to make them, fronted me the first supplies to do so, and I went door to door in my neighbourhood selling them. After people tried them they wanted to order them again. I made enough money that I could pay back my mother for the initial supplies and buy enough for the next batch. It didn’t go on for many rounds before it became too much work for us to sustain though. This was my first taste of making my own money though and I liked it.

As I grew I found lots of other ways to make money even before I was old enough to really enter the work force. I had an evening paper route that I delivered every day after school. Of course I did the usual things as well for some of my neighbours, mowing lawns in the summer time and shoveling driveways in the winter.

From their I moved on to a “personal assistant” position. In reality I had an elderly neighbour who had a hard time doing most things for herself so she paid me to help her. I would do basically anything she needed, from cleaning her house, to doing her banking and grocery shopping. Once a week we would take a taxi together and stop at the bank first. I would go in and cash her cheques. Then transfer the funds to the different accounts and pay her bills. Once we were done I would take the grocery money out and we would move on to the grocery store. She would sit in a dining area and I would go around and get everything on her list and go and pay for it. Looking at some now at some of my children this seems like an awful lot of responsibility for a child, but the experience I gained from this was invaluable.

Since then it seems that I’ve been in a constant back and forth in my jobs trying to find the right balance between money and happiness. Some jobs have paid very well but ended up making me unhappy or incredibly stressed out. While other jobs have not paid enough, or not steady enough, but made me happy.

Currently I’m in a position that is close to being perfect. The work environment is almost ideal. I have a great set of co-workers, they are very understanding when it comes to family things to allow me to take time and make it up later as long as I am getting my work done. Of course within reason. I am supporting the staff and patrons who are there mostly during typical business hours, so that is when I need to be there as well. But for the odd things that come up I have the needed flexibility. Nothing of course is perfect but for the most part I’m very content.

The biggest concern is that I seem to be making just enough money to pay all the bills and let the kids have the extracurricular activities they want to be in, but not really getting ahead when it comes to paying off debt and getting a savings going. Right before I took this position I was unemployed for a short while, but long enough to eat through our savings and build up our credit card debt.

We’re not behind on any payments and just got back from a nice family vacation so we’re not in dire straights. But when anything unexpected comes up, like a few things this week, it really shows how we need to be making better headway on debt and savings.

What I really need to do is find that magical balance where I have a great position doing the things I love, in a very flexible environment, while at the same time getting paid enough to get ahead. Over the years this seems to be very elusive and I realize that to a lot of people I likely have unrealistic expectations. However I know there are opportunities out there and I will work on finding the best fit. My eyes are set on a position with an amazing company and I’m working on showing them I would make an excellent team member, but I realistically know it’s a long shot.

Luckily I’m in a great position. I’m far from desperate to find a job, because I’m happy where I am and we are getting by. This leaves me so I can take the time to work at getting my dream job. Somewhere that I can finally feel both happy and in good financial health.