For the past 5 weeks, I have been working on my Trial as a Happiness Engineer for Automattic. Starting January 5th, 2015, my routine has consisted of spending the first part of the day at my day job, coming home, and spending the second half of the day on my Trial. I put in time as I was able during the weekends and managed to average about 26 1/2 hours each week. In this time, I responded to 99 Forums tickets, 104 email tickets and engaged in 111 Live Chats.

What went well

TRAINING – Starting out as a Trial, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I soon came to understand that part of my Trial was figuring things out on my own. The 2-day training was not comprehensive, but it was sufficient to help me get my bearings. From there, it was a matter of digging, discovering, asking and learning – not to mention, guessing and being corrected. Other HEs were good about not giving answers right out, but giving hints to help me discover the answer for myself. This was important for my learning. Training was on-the-job and it went well. (and is still ongoing!)

HELPERS – As part of the Trial, I was assigned both a Hiring Team and a Trial Buddy. I found this aspect of the Trial very helpful and pleasant. I quickly became friends with both and felt very comfortable approaching them with questions, sharing my thoughts, and being transparent with my struggles. They were encouraging, helpful, and responsive.

ASSIMILATION – Assimilation into a new group in an online environment was something I had never experienced before. A8c has a unique culture that was one of the things that attracted me to the company. I felt like I fit in very quickly to the community and found the social landscape easy to navigate and contribute to. My personality and sense of humor seemed to be “right at home” in the ongoing Slack conversations. I feel like I made a number of friends over the past 5 weeks. After week four, I distinctively remember thinking that I felt like part of the team and no longer an outsider.

SPEAKING HAPPINESS – While offering support with A8c, HEs must be both helpful, friendly and communicate conversationally. I feel like this was not a stretch for me at all. It took a few weeks and some feedback from my Hiring Team before finding the right voice in answering tickets. This went up another level doing live chat. I am now able to be my natural, friendly self while still offering helpful support.

LEARNING – Every day of my Trial I have learned new things. I have done so many things for the first time in this experience, I have lost track. Regarding Engineering Happiness, I have increased my speed at finding solutions, discovered and put new strategies into practice, and expanded my understanding of how A8c operates.

PERSONAL BENEFITS – This Trial gave me a taste of a lifestyle I have been dreaming of for the past few years. I thought the only way to spend more time with my family with the freedom to travel (and not be homeless!) was to own my own location-independent business. Automattic was an option I didn’t know existed until recently. Working from home on my Trial has been wonderful for me, my wife, and my kids. As we expected, the personal family benefits of the Trial were everything we hoped for.

What surprised you?

Everyone was willing to help. This took a little time to learn to trust. But through a combination of testing it myself and witnessing the communication among the others on Slack, I came to trust it was true.

Many moving parts – in constant motion. Everyone is either just coming out of or on the way to solving a problem, improving a feature, learning something new.

Everyone is a trainer. Originally, my Trial Buddy was supposed to lead my 4th and final training session. Because he was at a Meet Up in Barcelona, someone else filled in for him. As I got a few weeks into the Trial, I began noticing that full-time HEs were asking questions just like I was. And I noticed certain A11s seemed to be knowledgeable on certain subjects. At A8c, I was surprised to see that everyone is a trainer. It’s part of the culture.

Personal Growth – In the beginning, things began very slowly, as expected. I inched my way through tickets, searching deep and wide to effectively solve domain problems and upgrade issues. Over 3 weeks I increased my quantity of tickets and quality of my responses. After a 3 weeks of tickets, I moved into Live Chat and started slowly again. My 2 weeks culminated with a day of doing 23 chats in 3 hours with no breaks. I believe I had crossed a threshold. I had experienced the phenomenon of “just knowing what to do”.

Blurred lines between personal and professional – I was surprised to find the people of Automattic striking an interesting balance between personal and professional. I witnessed how the people of a company can successfully maintain professionalism while not losing the benefit of individual personalities. The best way I can describe this is that it feels like a well-established and stable company with the feel of a start-up.

What aspects of support would you like to learn more about?

I have many years of experience with graphic design and have been through the theme-choosing and WordPress website building process dozens of times.  I also have an interest in learning more about CSS and PHP (beyond some basic use in WordPress).  Working with user interface or on the Theme team, offering support and input on new projects sounds like a lot of fun to me.

I put these skills to use briefly in my feedback of the Calypso Menu:

I’ve enjoyed answering tickets involving front end or strategy questions for blog and website creation. With my knowledge and experience with internet business, I was very confident addressing these types of questions. I would love the opportunity to work with new users to help them with their website goals, and designing their websites around those goals.

I also would have liked to have taken more time to work on support documentation and other media and content creation. I have extensive experience creating content (written, visual, video) and really enjoy doing it.

Friends I’ve met along the way

  • Karen Arnold & Erica Varlese – My Hiring Team
  • Jason Snow – My Trial Buddy
  • Andy Christian – Fellow Trial Mate
  • Denise Williams, Chris Lauzon, Spencer Berry, Hafiz Rahman – Formal Trainers to get me started
  • Pam Kocke – Trained me on Live Chat
  • Jen Hooks – Old high school acquaintance and initial connection to applying at Automattic
  • Dustin Hartzler – We live in the same town and connected in person before I applied
  • Countless others who I worked with, or had extensive chats with in Slack

Final Impressions

Over the past 5 weeks I have had the pleasure of being immersed in and being a contributor at Automattic. I have loved every minute of it. I was prepared to enter into a well-oiled machine where everyone was functioning in their unique role. I quickly learned that it was a living and breathing organism as much as it is an organization. There are not rules to follow as much as there are guardrails to stay between. Everyone is both a learner and a trainer and teams function like friends working on a new start-up. People are driven not by monetary rewards, but by their commitments to one another and the vision of the company.

In this environment, I was working from my strengths. I felt very much at home. In closing, I will quote myself from #checkin-ben (private Slack channel):

At no point have I ever second guessed my decision to apply. At no point have I doubted whether or not I am cut out for this. My perspective, at this point, can be summed up by the final sentence of the Automattic Creed: “Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.”