Day in the Life of a Happiness Engineer

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Over the past year or so, quite a few of my colleagues here at Automattic have written “Day in the Life of…” posts on their personal blogs about, well, what a typical day is like for a Happiness Engineer. If you’re interested in learning more about we work, given all the freedom that we’re given to set our schedules (mostly) and choose our location (anywhere in the world!), you can catch most (maybe all?) of the posts by checking out the [#a8cday](https://wordpress.com/tag/a8cday%5D tag.

I generally work Monday to Friday, although on very rare occasions I might pop into Slack or our ticket queues over the weekend for an hour or two. Since my husband works a standard M-F job, though, I like keeping my own work hours n sync with his.

A lot of my colleagues like to ease into their workday day by catching up on p2s, the ever-growing collection of internal blogs (organized by team and/or project) that all together represent the heart, soul and critical organs of our global, distributed organization. Bug report? It’s on a p2. Odd behavior in the network? It’s on a p2. Discussion about how we can expand our live chat availability beyond North American hours? It’s on a lot of p2s.

I, on the other hand, like to jump in feet first and immediately kickstart my day by live chatting with users right at 7:00 am. Live chat is an essential part of the day for most Happiness Engineers, and the amount of time we dedicate to the task on a daily can vary depending on one’s team and daily schedule. On my team (Phoenix, which is primarily responsible for assisting Business and Enterprise users of WordPress.com), we aim for a total of 5 hours of live chat per day.

Because I’ve been spending a lot of time managing the roll out and maintenance of our Google Apps integration and deployment, I’ve temporarily cut back a bit on my support load to focus on doing a lot of testing, QA, and debugging of the product, but I still try and dedicate a minimum of two hours of live chat a day. The morning hours in particular represent a busy time for our Business users, so we HEs who staff those early blocks typically juggle a steady flow of user chats.

Every now and then, I’ll get a user or two with a particularly tricky issue that requires some debugging and testing, or who may be new to WordPress or website building in general and who needs a little more assistance. When that happens, my shift might end up extending well past the two-hour mark. (I think my personal record for longest user chat was just over 2-1/2 hours.) It’s not very common for my shift to bleed so far into mid- or late morning, but just in case I try not to schedule anything in the next hour after my chat shift, just to give myself that much of a buffer.

When I’m chatting, I do very little else besides skim p2s.  We also have a very active Slack in-house community, and while I long ago decided that reading the backscroll of messages that happened overnight or over the weekend while I was away was a futile exercise, I still like to quickly glance through my favorite channels and see if there’s anything critical I should be aware of.

For the most part, though, if I’m not actively in a chat, I’ll keep an eye on our #livechat Slack channel. That’s probably one of the most active channels in our company, one that’s lit up nearly all hours of the day or night. If we get a question in live chat that we’re not sure of, that’s the channel we throw it into for assistance. A user’s post has odd formatting? We paste the link into the channel and ask anyone available if they are seeing the same thing, and if so, what they might think is causing it. (With over 300+ themes, and new ones being launched every week, it’s almost impossible for any one person to know the unique features of each and every one.)

Compared to the intensity and singular focus of live chat, the rest of the day tends to be a little bit more relaxed. Once my chat shift is done, I may take my four dogs out for long walks – also in shifts, natch, as I don’t like being dragged in four different directions – and then go for a long run to clear my head.

When I get back, I usually take the dogs out to the backyard for more playtime for them and stretching for me. Then, it’s back inside for a quick shower and snack before plopping myself in front of the computer again in my home office.

For the last few months, I’ve devoted most of my non-chat hours every day to responding to queries and bug reports about our users’ Google Apps accounts, so if you purchased one from us and had questions or issues with it, chances are you either chatted with me about it, or I’ve spent time helping another Happiness Engineer with it. I review our debug logs, create a surprisingly large number of spreadsheets to help me keep track of and investigate problems, and help our developers with fixes and patches. I’m not a developer at all, but I do love the problem-solving aspects of the job and relish the thought of troubleshooting especially tricky bugs. I may have never written a line of code (although I did take computer science in high school and created simple BASIC programs!), but I’ve learned to pick through the Google Apps API documentation and learn the basics of how an account is created. I put on a “Focus” playlist on Spotify, have my bottle of ice-cold water at the ready, and I can get lost in the debug logs for hours.

If and when I find the source of a bug, I’ll compile everything into a report that I’ll publish in a p2 post, cc-ing the relevant developer(s) and, if necessary, alerting the rest of the Happiness team in case it affects more than a handful of users.

I usually try to end my day by 4:30-5:00 pm Central, as that gives me time to tie up any loose ends, relax, and take the dogs out for another romp in the backyard before I start preparing their dinner. If B. catches the early train, he’s generally walking through the door a few minutes before 6:00, but if not, then he’ll be here by 6:10 or so.

Every now and then, I might log back in after we’ve all had dinner and are relaxing in front of the TV, but otherwise, I try to keep evenings free for just the family.

I know quite a few people might read this and think, “Wait, I thought you guys can work anywhere you want, whenever you want, and travel all the time?!” Well, yes, we do, and this year alone I’ve been to San Antonio, Portland, Phoenix, Miami, and Park City for work. Last year I traveled to Palermo, Italy; San Francisco; Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Park City, UT; and Kauai, all for work as well. I’m not sure where I’ll be next year just yet, but I do know that in January I’ll be spending a week with my teammates in Phoenix, and again for our annual company “Grand Meetup” in the mid- to late fall at an as-yet-undecided location.

Still, most of my work still takes place online, at home, surrounded by my motley crew of four-legged pups and, in the evenings and weekends, my husband. And that’s exactly how I like it, the soothing predictability and stability of it. Some of my colleagues choose to be nomads, working from wherever in the world they can find solid wifi and a decent cup of coffee. I traveled thousands upon thousands of miles when I was much younger, and once devoted months of my life to a big, life-altering backpacking trip that took me from Dallas to Australia and a dozen points in between. I grew up straddling two cultures and zooming between two continents. I know what it’s like to be a nomad. It’s an exhilarating adventure.

But now I also know what it’s like to settle down. To plant my feet on solid ground and keep them there for a while. I like the rhythm of our days, the million opportunities to sit in the backyard on a breezy summer’s day and enjoy the feel of my dog’s warm, happy breath on my neck. I like coming home at the end of a business trip and be welcomed into my family’s joyful embrace. I like waking up in the morning and knowing that my day is going to be like (for the most part!). For some, that may be a terrifying thought, but for me, a woman who had such a peripatetic life in the past, it’s the very definition of a happy life.