Last autumn, I wrote a post about being a woman at Automattic, and a bit about applying here (yes! we are hiring). Since then, I’ve been frequently asked what it is, exactly, that I do.
I’m a Happiness Engineer. My super-super-super short answer is that I help people with their WordPress.com blogs. This is mostly true. It is not, however, the whole story.
Happiness Engineers (HEs) do many things. There are in the neighborhood of 60 full-time Happiness Engineers at Automattic right now (more if you include our Happiness Gardeners – who are like devs that specifically help the Happiness Engineers), although not all are in Core Happiness, where I work. Yes. All this is real.
For the sake of clarity, I’m only going to focus on what it is I do, which is likely pretty different than anyone else. One of the most amazing things at Automattic is the amount of trust based in every single employee. So the way I work is likely unique to me. Further, because a big part of my experience at Automattic has been about building relationships (whether with my co-workers, users, or the software itself) everything I experience will naturally be a bit different than any other HE.
A typical day involves certain things – reading O2 posts (O2 is a special blog theme based on the P2 theme, currently being iterated before being released at large), reading and answering questions from users, talking and brainstorming with my squad (my team is Core Happiness, my squad focuses on Tickets – other squads focus on Forums, Jetpack, Live Chat, and Terms of Service), and working on a “20% project” – which is a project of my choosing. Right now, I’m working on learning PHP.
Although I don’t think about it much anymore, because I’m used to it, each day and week requires the absorption of a lot of information. A wise co-worker of mine once said something to the effect of “memorization < ( intuition + investigation )” (that is actually a direct quote; I just copied and pasted). So each day, then week, then month, it’s not so important that someone in my role remember everything she reads, but that she be able to find the thing she read again later when needed – even a month or 3 months later. So for me, each day I do some mental filing. Luckily, with the close contact with my team and squad, if I do forget something exists, someone else remembers.
As is widely known, Automattic is a distributed company, so everyone works from wherever suits them best. For me, that’s my home. We say that “communication is oxygen” and it is true – working alone all day could be lonely, but it never is. HEs help each other with complex tickets, with what we call “sad robots” (when a user rated our support as poor), with managing projects, with sanity checks on everything from a user request to updating documentation, and circulating inane gifs. Communication with my team is a huge part of my day.
WordPress.com is a service that hosts WordPress.com blogs – like this one – and manages all the back-end stuff like, well, hosting, backups, security, stats, social integration, and more. If you have a host and you downloaded (or one-click-installed) WordPress, then you are using WordPress.org. When a user signs up for WordPress.com, they may want to start a blog, or a business site, or just comment on other people’s blogs and not have a blog of their own. Naturally, users have a lot of questions at all stages of the process, from first starting out to wanting to really personalize their site. This is where my team comes in.
Happiness Engineers on Core Happiness help users by managing the support documentation, helping our amazing volunteers and moderators in the forums, working with self-hosted users who have installed Jetpack, chatting with users who are brand new to WordPress.com via Live Chat, and through support tickets. We also iterate on everything we do, all the time, so we can always be better and can be giving our users a better experience.
While it is technically accurate to say that I help users with their WordPress.com blogs, what I really do is try to hear what each person is saying, visit their blog, assess how I can best help them, and then help them. Maybe it sounds dry, but I have had some really wonderful experiences helping users. I have made friends – like Jeanine at Designed-Opinions.com and Lisa (whose blog is private but involves giraffes) – and found blogs I am eager to follow, like Heart Of Life Poetry, Haley the Wonder Dog, Owl’s House London, and more. I feel lucky to have been able to talk with these users and found out more about them. I find myself in a position to help people not unlike myself – young mothers (sometimes with multiples, which is always a fun thing to bond over) for example, and to help people sometimes very unlike myself. The wide range of users is sometimes breathtaking. And, overwhelmingly, these users are gracious. Spending my day emailing with these nice, curious people and showing them how WordPress can do what they’re trying to do is immensely satisfying to me.
I am also asked if my job is truly flexible. Yes. It is. I mentioned earlier that every employee is trusted. Each of us are trusted to do the work we were hired to do, as well as whatever else we are interested in, in whatever time works best for us. So while that means I have a pretty “typical” hours, I also am able to end my day early to pick up the twins from daycare early, or go to the park because it’s sunny out, or spend some time decompressing if I think I need it. Because I am trusted to do my work, my work gets done. Multiplied across all 225-or-so employees. This works at Automattic because we aren’t hired based on a resume or a couple-hour interview. Matt Mullenweg (our founder and now CEO) wrote a guest post for the Harvard Business Review blog (hosted by WordPress.com) that talks about this more.
I had a realization a few weeks ago, that I am as eager and happy for “tomorrow” regardless of if tomorrow is a Saturday or a Monday. As I can’t believe I am lucky enough to have the family I do, I can’t believe I am lucky enough to have the job that I do. I realize that sounds like bragging, but it’s actually more humbling than anything else. And lest I make everything sound easy-peasy, both life and work seem to thrive on a special kind of chaos. I suppose it’s fairly accurate to say that adaptability is an essential skill.
I know this may raise more questions than it actually answers, but there is something about Automattic that has to be experienced to be understood. Did I mention that we’re hiring?