A few weeks ago, maybe a month – I don’t quite remember – my dear friend and former colleague (still currently a colleague of the spirit) Andrea Badgley announced to Automattic that she’d be moving on to an exciting new role with Support Driven. It sounds like the perfect work for her; she’s worked so hard to get this opportunity, and it’s thrilling that it fell into her lap the way it did. (Of course, the work she does is fantastic, and she’s dedicated and scrupulous so nothing fell into her lap; she earned it. But it did find her, and I think that’s just lovely.) As I was saying. With Badgley moving on, her team was without a lead. In the way of things, I ended up taking over her WordPress.com support-focused team, and taking along a Woo Happiness Engineer with me (Dustin) from my previous team. The idea is to build a team that’s a hybrid between WooCommerce support and WordPress.com support, not only comprising Happiness Engineers from both divisions (unprecedented), but also steadily and deliberately blurring the line between what it means to provide support in either division (unconventional).
We have a certain degree of chaotic coalesence at Automattic – we try stuff. We work hard to get it right early, but we don’t let the pursuit of perfect get in the way of good enough. We move quickly and we iterate. You know Conway’s Game of Life? Sometimes work can feel like that. Things are happening. But unlike the Game of Life, there are inputs after the initial genesis. People come, people go, strategies arise, and failed experiments are turned into hive knowledge so we know better how to try next. There’s an ambient intelligence that thrums through Automattic. So, doing something that hasn’t been done before isn’t particularly novel, even if the thing itself is.
We like to say “welcome to the chaos!” — almost any chance we get, honestly. A quick internal search showed it popping up 325 times on P2s and 694 times in Slack. Sometimes it can mean “argh, we don’t have a process for this thing yet, and wow! we need one!” But more often, it means “ok, get ready, because this is gonna be hella fun and intense.” It’s something of a company motto (indeed, it is featured on the first page of our internal Field Guide).
My job changed again. After discussions with Spittle, who leads support at Automattic, I distributed most of my team within the existing Woo Happy teams. A note about Woo Happiness: when I made the switch to WooCommerce, we had a long road ahead of us. Processes weren’t clear, live chat wasn’t a thing, and the divide between product and support had never been greater. Luckily, we worked hard as a peer cohort over the past year, and I was able to provide context and some of that ambient intelligence to Woo Happy from my long time as a WP.com lead. My fellow Woo Happy leads soaked it up, and also brought in their own strengths, and when it was time to decide what was next, I felt I could leave WooCommerce in a much stronger place than when I had joined it. Further, I knew that moving back to care for the WP.com team (Eshu) was where Automattic needed me most.
I wanted latitude to decide what the goals would be for the new hybrid team, and created a plan for 6 months of work. If we decided at the end of those six months that the experiment had been a success, we could look at expanding it. If, at any point, things truly weren’t working for the people on the team — our most important consideration — we’d either change course or end the experiment.
Part of the beautiful fluid poetry of Automattic is that most of Eshu, the WP.com team, are from my old team, Hermes. Before my maternity leave in 2016, I broke my enormous 18-person team into 3 teams of 6. Eshu was one of those newly-formed teams. Eshu is now 12 people, so alongside the familiar faces, I am getting to know some new folks (or getting reaquainted with some, as the case may be).
Heraclitus knew a thing or two about change. He’s the one who said (and I paraphrase): “you can’t step in the same river twice,” and I am feeling that everyday right now. I’m back where I was before, and nothing is the same. I’ve been diving into front-line support this week, and although the questions are much less technical than WooCommerce customers’ questions, I’m still slow finding answers. I’m back working with a lot of familiar folks, and a lot of unfamiliar folks. The tools are the same, but used differently. Emoji use in WP.com is different. The nuances and subtleties are just slightly shifted. If you want to feel true chaos, move everything in your house 4 inches to the right. My entire house is undergoing incredibly small catastrophic shifts.
Interestingly, I also have a lot of opportunity to help the WordPress.com Happy leads, much as I helped the Woo Happy leads. I feel like I’m learning from one group, applying those lessons to the new group, and turning around and doing the same thing over again. It’s like a computer that charges your phone or gets charged by your phone, or that jellyfish that starts aging in reverse when it gets to a certain age. Or the snake that eats its own tail. The only true perpetual machine is that of growing and reapplying knowledge.
Welcome to the chaos.