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.

Joining Automattic

This post has been rattling around inside me for some time now so I think it’s about time that I get to writing. It’s been just about a month since I first started working full time at Automattic but the whole process started long before that.

I’ve been using WordPress to build websites for quite some time. I signed up for a WordPress.com account in 2007 I’m guessing to get an API key to use Akismet to handle spam on one of my self hosted sites. Years later I did help a client customize a site on WordPress.com but for the vast majority of the work I did it was all self hosted version of WordPress.

I know I had heard about the company Automattic before this, but the first real time I remember it was in 2010 when I heard Matt Mullenweg on an episode of the Big Web Show that I really realized what they were doing. I had just recently graduated from University and was just getting started so I never really considered applying at that time.

It wasn’t until July of this year that I ended up reading another interview of Matt. It really struck me that I might actually stand a chance at working for this company and it sounded like an amazing place to work. So I set out an applied to be a Happiness Engineer. But I rushed it and I didn’t do a good job of presenting myself. It didn’t take long before I received an email saying they weren’t interested at this time with the suggestion to volunteer in the support forums to better get to know the product and to get a feel for some of the work I would be doing if I was hired.

If there has ever been something that I’ve been good at over the years though it is getting the job. I don’t have a good track record of staying at one place very long though. It’s certainly not because I haven’t worked for good companies but I always just thought I saw something better, got bored, or something made me unhappy. I’m fairly certain a lot of it was just not being overly happy with myself though.

With that in mind I slowed things down a bit and made sure when I applied again I would make sure I would at least get to the interview stage. I didn’t even wait a long time to reapply, but I worked hard in the forums trying my best to help people and to get to know the WordPress.com product. I started using my WordPress.com account as well which this blog is on.

At this time it wasn’t until mid September that I heard back again, but this time I was offered an interview. The hiring process is tough, and long, but it I really appreciate it and I’m convinced that our hiring team knows how to find the right people because I haven’t had a negative interaction with anyone yet.

After my interview I was asked to do a small project. In this case I was asked to look though the existing support documentation and find a something that needed improving and fix it, or find something that didn’t exist and write it. From there they must have liked what I did and I moved onto a second interview. Keep in mind that all these interviews and communication were text based. Arranging times over email, but then the actual chats over Skype messaging.

At the end of the second interview I was asked to do a Trial. This entails essentially doing the job as a contractor for a number of weeks. This allows you to really figure out what the job is and if you like it, and allows them to ensure that you are a right fit for the team as well. No one expects you to do it for free, or to leave a job you already have to do the trial. They are flexible and allow you to work the hours you can around your existing job and responsibilities.

Obviously the more time you put in the faster you will figure things out so my wonderful wife Jen basically completely took over the household while I worked all day at the University and then came home and put in as many hours as I could into the Trial. It was honestly exhausting and at one point I really almost burnt myself out so I slowed down a bit.

I love the Trial aspect of hiring. One job I previously took I tried to get the company to let me come in and get a feel for the job, the environment, and the team before I accepted an offer. I would do it for free on my own time, I just wanted to make sure I was making the right decision. They let me come in for a few hours one day, but that really doesn’t give you a full picture of how things will be. For Automattic to immediately give me access to just about everything full time employees have access to and let me learn as much about the job as the company and the culture itself works well for both them and me. Plus they paid me well to do it.

On my birthday October 30th I was having a feedback chat with my hiring team at the end they surprised me with the good news that they were happy with everything I did during the Trial and they were moving me to the final part of the hiring process. That is a chat with the CEO Matt himself. This part amazes me as well. He still talks to every person and signs off on them before they are hired. Keep in mind how crazy busy his schedule must be even without the hiring aspect, but to take the time to talk to me for a long time truly shows how much he cares about the company and the employees alike. I was nervous as can be but it went well and at the end he told me was offering me a job and sent the letter of offer.

It’s been a fairly long journey to this point, but it is only getting started. You are a trusted and valued employee and it shows in everything the company does. In return we all love the company and what we do. I mean how great is it that I get to help people get themselves setup online so they can share their thoughts and ideas. I honestly feel that this company and this position were almost tailor made for me.

We are hiring so if you want to hear more certainly let me know, or better yet visit our site and apply.