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.

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 ūüôā 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.

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.

gm-jupiter
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.

2016-09-17-9579-l

 

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.

Looking back for an alternate path

You can’t change the past and I don’t believe it does any good to dwell on what ifs, or wishing you could go back and do things differently. That doesn’t stop me from occasionally thinking about where my life might be if I had made different choices at certain points in time, and then throwing these rambling thoughts down in a blog post.

In all honesty there is not much I would change if I had the chance. I’m very happy with where my life is right now. One thing I’ve been considering though is that, with the benefit of hindsight, I could have ended up at this same place except sooner.

There all kinds of mistakes and things I did when I was younger that put bumps in my road, or caused me to take wrong turns. The one that picks at me the most is the decision to go back to school to take Computer Science.

It’s not because I don’t see the value in the program or that I didn’t learn anything. In fact I really enjoyed my time at Acadia,¬†the people I met, and I learned so much. The reason I regret it mainly is because where I ended up, and for how much of my degree I actually use, I didn’t need to go deep into debt in student loans to learn the skills and knowledge I now use in my career.

My time and money would have been much better spent buying and reading books specifically about web development. That is what I was really interested in and where I wanted to spend my career. Instead of writing command line Java programs I could have been building and experimenting with side projects or client work on my own.

At the time though all the local jobs with employers I thought would be good to work for wanted someone with a degree. Truly I didn’t even think about the possibility of working remotely at the time. Even though I was already doing it to an extent making websites for people I never met in person. It also didn’t occur that I would find a company where I really could make a career providing customer support. With those assumptions and narrow focus the logical route seemed to be¬†to spend four years going to University.

After graduating I was able to sustain life being self employed doing web development for people. However I didn’t make it to a point where I was earning enough to repay my loans. For a number of years I deferred payments. This means there are still a lot of years I’ll be paying them back. Getting close to 40 years old and seeing the final date to having them paid so far away is a bit deflating.

This isn’t a complaint against student loans, I’m fully aware how fortunate I am that I was able to get loans, go to school, and then defer their payments afterwards. I’m just day dreaming about how I could have done it differently now that I have the benefit of looking back.

Even before I went back to school I was already on a path which could have led me to Automattic. My passion was in the web, I loved building things to help people, and helping people get a presence online. The whole while I was teaching myself how to do these things in my spare time. While¬†building websites I came to a point where static html files weren’t the best way to do things and started looking at content management systems. Playing with things like WordPress and Joomla or Mambo at the time. In 2009 I signed up for a WordPress.com account, though I didn’t end up doing much with it for some time.

Later in 2010 I ended up hearing a Big Web Show podcast on 5by5 where Matt Mullenweg was interviewed. In it he talked about Automattic and in particular Happiness Engineers is what caught my attention. That was my first time starting to think that it could be a cool job, but put it out of my mind before looking into it because I was making money on my own. In that interview Matt also talked about a theory that the time was right for a product like WordPress to evolve and that if it wasn’t WordPress something else would have come along which met the needs of the web. My thought is that my career at Automattic is sort of like. A career like this, with a company like this, was needed in my life and we ended up connecting together.

If I hadn’t gone to University I could have learned a lot by¬†myself in that same time frame and maybe when I heard that podcast I would have been more open to looking into working at Automattic. Then I could have been four years ahead in my career and without all the student loan debt.

Despite the regret I’m still just so thankful for having the life I do. With my family and career I really have nothing to complain about. Just in case my path wouldn’t have led me here without my going through University, than I’m even more grateful for my experiences I gained there and will try my best not to be so down on paying back the loans.

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!

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.

ÔĽŅExcited 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.