SD Expo 2018 recap

This may come as a surprise, but I didn’t go to Portland solely to shop for fabric. The main reason I went was to give a workshop at SD Expo, a conference for support professionals.

My former coworker and current friend Andrea Badgley now works for Support Driven, the company that puts on SD Expo, and I was excited to hear that our flights arrived at about the same time. We took the train from the airport into the city together, and then met up with Denise, another Automattician for lunch at Deschutes Brewery. It was so great to see them again!

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Later, we went to the AirBNB offices and met up with some of the conference attendees and also toured the offices. Sounds weird, right? I was a bit skeptical about touring offices, but they were actually pretty cool.

The next day, we were up bright and early for the expo, which was held at an arena on the campus of Portland State University. Automattic was also a sponsor, so we set up our booth and I freaked out about my workshop, which was that morning.

My workshop was meant to help customer support agents get to the bottom of confusing questions from users. It happens. It was charmingly titled “I’m sorry, can you repeat the question? Getting to the bottom of what the customer is really asking”.

I didn’t finish polishing it until the night before I left for Portland. I work best on a deadline, and I know this, but nevertheless, I probably could have done without the stress. And I was also determined to tailor a couple of WordPress t-shirts to wear, but they weren’t getting delivered until that day. So yeah. Time management skills are definitely not my forte.

Since I was running a workshop and not just giving a talk, I needed an activity. I had a basic idea of what I was going to do (use low-tech scenarios to have people role-play customer and support agent) but I wasn’t sure how to execute it. I just couldn’t make it gel. But finally, about a week before, it came to me in a flash.

Fast forward to Thursday at about 10:45am. I’m walking towards the workshop room with my colleague Ainslie, who volunteered to help me demonstrate and keep things moving. There was a crowd of people waiting outside the room.

No, surely these people weren’t waiting to get into the room for my talk. Surely they were just…waiting in line for the bathroom? Or just chatting? Or were lost? Alas, my dream of having a half-full room for my workshop (just enough to not feel pathetic, but not too many to be overwhelmed) was shot down when all 48 seats at the tables were taken and another dozen or so people sat in chairs along the walls.

I nervously confidently got started, and fortunately, only had to talk for about ten minutes before the fun part started – the activity.

Looking nervous confident in the shirt I tailored (I can’t not talk about sewing a little.)

And also looking just like the nerd emoji. 🤓

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Uncanny.

The workshop part went like this…everyone divided into pairs. One person was the customer, and the other was the support agent. They were given an envelope with two sealed cards. The customer’s card detailed a problem they were having with a company’s product. The support agent’s card only said what the company was. The agent had to guess what the problem was, using techniques I’d discussed in my talk.

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In the demo, I was the customer, and Ainslie was the support agent.

Her card simply said “You are a support agent for ACME BOOKSELLERS”

I started out saying “I got a book to read to my kid, but I can’t read it!” She asked, “is there anything wrong with the book?” I clarified that no, the book itself was fine, the pages weren’t torn or anything. But I just couldn’t read the words. And YES, I can read.

After a few probing questions, she thought to ask me to spell a few of the words to her.

“B-O-N J-O-U-R”, I said. And voila! She figured out the problem.

Here’s what my card said.

The rest of the scenarios were similar, and you can download the set here, if you like.

The discussion was lively, and people ran through several scenarios in the time we had. The room got loud! So loud we had to borrow one of the participants to whistle for us.

There were still about ten minutes left, so I opened the floor to let people talk about their experiences either at the workshop or in real life, or if they had questions. Naturally I expected dead silence, but I was happy that we had a lively discussion with people asking questions and hands being raised and I got to call on people and pretend like I was a teacher and everything. It was fantastic.

But the best part of all was after. The people who came up to me to tell me how great it was, and how much they got out of it. It really made all of the stress worth it. But maybe next time I’ll start earlier. (Yeah right.)

I can’t talk about SD Expo, though, without talking about my colleagues’ talks. Denise gave a workshop on weekend scheduling that gave me a profound respect for the work she does at Automattic. Maureen talked about the concierge support we give to our Business-level users, and we got to do a fun Mad Libs activity. And Kathryn talked about her experiences in the WordPress community forums, which she’s been involved with for many years.

I also got to talk to potential Happiness Engineer candidates (you know we’re hiring, right?), pick the brains of other people who hire support teams for their companies, eat amazing doughnuts, meet some famous cats, and fly home first class. Not bad!

 

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10 years on WordPress!

It’s hard to explain how the decision I made on July 10, 2001 to document my marathon training literally changed my life. WordPress didn’t even exist yet. In the beginning, this blog was just an HTML page that I updated and each month I’d start a new page. (Not to worry, you can read all those posts here – I copied them into blog posts a while back.)

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Hand coded HTML
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Every website needed a splash page in 2003!

But ten years ago today, on July 11, 2008, I moved my blog to WordPress.com – for several years before that, it was hosted, uh, elsewhere. But once I met WordPress, it was love at first site sight.

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Finally on WordPress.com in 2008!

And of course, in 2013 it led to me working at Automattic. My dream job!

I don’t blog for a big audience. I blog to document my life, so I can go back and read it later. (I’m hopelessly nostalgic.) I blog because there was no way I was going to be able to keep three baby books going. I blog because I love photography. And I love to photograph my kids. I blog because I like to keep in touch with old friends.

And if it weren’t for WordPress, I surely would have given up long ago. And I wouldn’t have the amazing colleagues and friends I’ve made over the past four and a half years. I wouldn’t have a job I love, that constantly challenges me. I wouldn’t have Ziggy!

This is post 3,808.

Here’s to 3,808 more.

2017 in review

Years that end in 7s have typically been pretty eventful for me. Well, at least two of them have. I spent a good chunk of 1997 in London, which was life-changing for me. And 2007 brought a trio of little clones into our lives. So I expected 2017 to be equally eventful for me personally. I mean, hey, it was also the year I was 42, so expectations were high.

But it didn’t end up being particularly noteworthy, at least not for me. In fact, generally speaking, I’d say it was not a great year overall. But for our family, it was fine. Let’s recap. Continue reading

Four years at Automattic!

Well, you know I love an anniversary. But this is a big one! No, for real this time. After you’ve been at Automattic for four years, you get a new custom laptop with a lit up W (or Jetpack logo, or Automattic logo. I went with the W.) It’ll be a while before I actually get it, since it’s custom made and all that, but it’ll be worth the wait.

And next year is even better – a three month paid sabbatical after five years! I have already started planning how I’m going to use my time (organizing every inch of the house, rocking NICU babies, cooking a lot, you know, the usual.)

I was thinking about how Automattic has changed since I started. We have stats for everything, and I found this one:

You started on 2013-11-18. Of the 632 other Automatticians, 166 (26.3%) started before you, 2 (0.3%) started on the same day, and 464 (73.4%) started after you.

Wow! Yeah, we’ve grown quite a bit in the last four years. (And I hired 38 of those!)

I think there were about 45 Happiness Engineers when I started, and now there are over 200. We hadn’t yet acquired WooCommerce, Calypso wasn’t a thing, heck, we were barely offering live chat to our customers! Now users with the Business plan can upload themes and plugins! (Trust me, this is huge.)

I have traveled to at least 18 cities in the last four years for work – from Dayton to Auckland. I’ve been up mountains and dipped my toes in the sea. I’ve seen the sun rise in Utah and in Spain. Okay, I’ll stop being poetic now.

I’ve met amazing people, made amazing friends, learned so much. I can’t wait to see what the next four years holds.

(Can you find me?)

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Oh yeah, and as usual, we’re hiring!

London and Manchester 2017

How lucky am I? The second time in a year to go to my favorite place on Earth, and this time, no one was barfing all over the Airbnb. (Okay, honestly, nothing could ever beat our trip last Christmas, but that was definitely a low point.)

This trip was for work. My team (the Happiness Hiring team, also known as Athena) met up in London to work on things, and then we went to Manchester for a couple of nights for an event. It was very busy, but what better place to be busy? Plus, we’d just made our three European teammates (Dan, Cécile, and Hannah) travel to Canada for the Grand Meetup, so it was only fair we went to them this time. We’re so kind and generous.

Monday
Continue reading

Automattic Grand Meetup 2017

Back to Whistler!

And even more gorgeous than last year. The weather was stunning until the last day, and even in the rainy mist it was beautiful. On to the pics!

Day 1: Arrival and the opening party

Checked into hotel, found the view of the pool wasn’t quite as nice as last year, but I’m not complaining.

Look, it’s Bob! Not my big brother! Bob looks like my brother, only with dimples and technically younger than me by a couple of months. (But seriously tho.) Continue reading

A typical day at work

This post is part of a series describing what Automatticians do on a daily basis. You can read more posts like this by following the tag #a8cday on WordPress.com and Twitter.

Back in October 2014, I wrote a post describing a typical day at work. Since then, my job has changed quite a bit, so I’m writing an updated version.

6:05ish: I hear the boys getting up and getting in the shower. Yes, they are now taking showers by themselves in the morning. Hallelujah! I doubt this will last very long, but I’m enjoying having clean children and not having to nag them to bathe. I lie in bed and play Two Dots and catch up on my email until the bathroom is free.

7:00: Everyone troops downstairs. If I’m driving them to school that day, I’ve showered, but usually I don’t. So I’m still in pajamas. I make my coffee, they make their lunches, put their shoes on, and get their stuff together. I pour cereal into bags for them to take with them.

7:30ish: The boys get picked up and I grab some breakfast and go upstairs to my office.

The biggest difference between my job in 2014 and now is that instead of primarily providing support to WordPress.com customers, I now hire more Happiness Engineers to provide support to our customers. And now WooCommerce is part of the Automattic family, so we’re hiring HEs to support WordPress.com, Jetpack, and WooCommerce.

So I sit at my desk and the first thing I do is go through my email. When I did support work, email wasn’t a big part of my work at all. But in Hiring I use it a lot more. We get applications via email, we send out interview requests, tests, and of course rejections via email as well. We use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to send out most of the emails, but the replies come in to our normal mailbox.

img_7731It would probably help to explain the hiring process a bit here.

First, we get emails from applicants, which we import into our ATS. The various members of the team review each application twice. The rejections get emailed back and the ones that pass the reviews get a small project.

If the project is done well, we schedule a first interview, which is done via Slack. If the interview goes well, we send another small assignment, which may or may not lead to a second interview. Assuming the second interview goes well, we may offer a trial.

The trial lasts from 3-6 weeks and is paid. (My trial paid for work on our house. Yay trial!) Usually we follow someone through from the first interview through the trial, but occasionally we’ll pass them along to someone else on the hiring team to run the trial. Right now, I’m running four trials, and it’s likely I’ll have a few more starting up over the next few weeks.

So I spend a good part of the morning checking on my trials. How much work did they get done the day before? (They either answer support tickets or do live chat with customers.) How was their feedback from users? How are their answers? Their tone? Are they interacting with other Happiness Engineers?

Every trial also has a buddy, so I may have some feedback from the buddy or other HEs. All of this gets fed into our ATS so we can review it easily.

Once I’ve looked through the trials, we may have applications that need reviewing. I may have gotten some projects back so I’ll need to review those as well. If they go well, I’ll send out interview requests.

Another big part of my job is organizing new hire Support Rotations.

Every new Automattician who doesn’t work in Happiness starts off their tenure with three weeks in support. So they are trained how to use our tools and how we provide support for two days alongside HE trials and then are let loose. So I keep track of who is starting and when, and get their training set up and a buddy for their rotation, and all that good stuff.

Oh, and training. How could I forget training? I also organize Happiness training. Nearly every week, we have either trials or support rotations starting at Automattic. And since we all work remotely, we can’t ask someone in Australia to train at the same time as someone in Europe and someone in the US. So we have a few different trainings. I schedule Happiness Engineers to do those training sessions, and make sure everyone gets trained on time.

So this all takes up most of my day. But if I get through all of that, I try to spend some time doing support tickets or live chat. It’s incredibly important that I not only help out the team, but also that I always know what’s going on in support. How can I evaluate a trial’s live chats if I don’t know how accurate their answers are? If I don’t know how to use our tools (which are ever-evolving?)

Right now my coworker Deborah and I are getting ready for a recruiting trip to Australia and New Zealand so I’m also helping to get our accommodations sorted out, swag sent to the hotels, and events set up. We’ll be speaking at WordCamp Auckland so we need to get together to work on our talk as well.

So that’s my work stuff. I might also go work out at Orange Theory at some point during the day.

3:15: I log off and go pick up the kids from school. If traffic isn’t terrible I’m home around 4:30 and I log back on to finish up anything I hadn’t done before.

5:30: Log off. Get dinner started. Nag boys to do homework.

8:30ish: Get boys in bed. Read a book.

10:30: zzzz