Day in the Life of a Happiness Engineer

Standard

 

 

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.

The Father Of “Getting Things Done”: You’re Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

Standard

Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

via The Father Of “Getting Things Done”: You’re Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Note: Great article about the Getting Things Done philosophy of productivity and mindfulness, and interview with its creator, David Allen. I’ve been a fan for years, ever since I read the book back in 2009, and have been struggling to perfectly implement it in my work and personal lives. This article is making me rethink how I interpreted GTD (despite the fact that I’ve read the book cover-to-cover and listened to the full audio book at least 3-4 times!). I especially enjoy the analogy to Zen Buddhism, a philosophy and spiritual discipline that really resonates with me. Worth a read and won’t take more than 10 minutes to do so.

The Father Of "Getting Things Done": You're Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

Standard

Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

via The Father Of “Getting Things Done”: You’re Getting Me All Wrong | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Note: Great article about the Getting Things Done philosophy of productivity and mindfulness, and interview with its creator, David Allen. I’ve been a fan for years, ever since I read the book back in 2009, and have been struggling to perfectly implement it in my work and personal lives. This article is making me rethink how I interpreted GTD (despite the fact that I’ve read the book cover-to-cover and listened to the full audio book at least 3-4 times!). I especially enjoy the analogy to Zen Buddhism, a philosophy and spiritual discipline that really resonates with me. Worth a read and won’t take more than 10 minutes to do so.

The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings

Standard

Compressed into this humble and humbling morning routine is the entire Buddhist belief that life is a “joyful participation in a world of sorrows.” This daily rite of body and spirit is the building block of the Dalai Lama’s quiet and steadfast mission to, as Iyer elegantly puts it, “explore the world closely, so as to make out its laws, and then to see what can and cannot be done within those laws.”

via The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings.

The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings

Standard

Compressed into this humble and humbling morning routine is the entire Buddhist belief that life is a “joyful participation in a world of sorrows.” This daily rite of body and spirit is the building block of the Dalai Lama’s quiet and steadfast mission to, as Iyer elegantly puts it, “explore the world closely, so as to make out its laws, and then to see what can and cannot be done within those laws.”

via The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet | Brain Pickings.

The Quantified Self as a Writer

Standard

Using Scrivener at Starbucks.

Using Scrivener at Starbucks.

I’ve been a dedicated follower of the sci-fi writer (and software developer by day) Jamie Todd Rubin, ever since I read one of the blog posts extolling the virtues of going paperless. He’s an Evernote Ambassador (apparently an unpaid honor that entitles Rubin to a free Business plan and an audience of Evernote fans to tap into to promote his own writing), and as a productivity devotee and Evernote user myself, it didn’t take long for his name to pop into my consciousness.

Rubin’s in the middle of a massive writing streak. Massive, as in, he’s been writing at least once a day for nearly 700 consecutive days. He hasn’t missed a day since July 21, 2013.

Rubin doesn’t have a word count goal, nor is he aiming for a specific number of pages per day. Rather, he simply squeezes in as much time as he can in his very busy days to get some writing done, whether it’s a couple hundred words a day or 1,500. Since he launched his writing streak, though, he’s discovered that the more he writes, the more efficient he’s become, the better his writing, and the easier (relatively speaking) the writing gets. Writing is never easy, of course (not to me, anyway), but like with anything else, as Rubin has demonstrated, you do get better at something the more you do it. It doesn’t matter how little talent you have to begin with (and Rubin is clearly talented) – if you keep at something and persevere, you will get results. You may never find yourself playing solo at Carnegie Hall someday, but if you push yourself to practice the piano every single day for years on end, you will improve.

It’s a discipline I’m working on now as I hit my mid-forties. I dreamt once of finishing a novel by the time I actually reached 40, but clearly that’s well behind me. Still, the big war novel is begging to be completed – I left my protagonist stranded in steamy Singapore, waiting to learn of his fate, wondering where the Girl is and if she’s still alive. I’ve several bookshelves groaning under the weight of dozens of World War II novels, biographies, and histories. I think this book, this story – even if it’s fiction – belongs up there, too.

Rubin uses a script he created (did I mention that he’s a software developer?) to automatically tally up his word count every evening. He writes directly into Google Docs so that he doesn’t have to mess with learning a new program like Scrivener, which is beautiful to use and packed with features, but which does have a bit of a learning curve. As a quantified writer who likes to track not only his writing output but also his sleep and his fitness milestones and probably his diet, too, Rubin doesn’t want to waste time that he already has so little of on something not directly related to the act of writing itself. There’s something to that. I’m surrounded by at least 5 dogs nearly every day, have a full-time job that demands a huge chunk of my mental processing power, a husband with his own demanding career, and a house that needs occasional upkeep. Once my head hits my pillow each night, I’m usually asleep within five minutes. Every day is a packed day.

As much as I’d love to try out Rubin’s script, I think I’m going to aim for the already-challenging goal of writing 500 words a day. Not 200 or 100 or 50, which is the pitiful low barrier I’ve been hurtling myself over, but something that will actually get me closer to my goal of completing the damn thing. Fifty words is better than zero, but it’s so easy to lose momentum that way. I like to let my hands do the writing and let my brain hang around for the ride. It can make for some interesting detours in the story sometimes (I switched POVs halfway through), but that’s what the editing process is for.

iDoneThis, iDoneThat

Standard

I’ve been trying out iDoneThis for a week now and realize that I’m still in the honeymoon phase, but wow, it makes me giddy.

I use it exclusively for work, especially to help jog my memory when our biweekly updates are due, but for now I’m testing it out on a personal account. Entire teams at Automattic are using it to keep track of their milestones, especially our developers, and I can understand why it’s such an appealing and maybe even addictive tool.

idonethis-banner

My favorite feature is its app integration. Since our entire company spends an ungodly amount of time on Slack — it pretty much remains open on my screen anytime I’m at my laptop, and I’m sad to admit that I periodically scroll through it even when I’m not officially working, like at the doctor’s office — it’s so easy to pop into any channel, type something like /done Posted a trac ticket about x theme’s documentation, and watch with deep satisfaction as the app robotically congratulates me on getting things done and adds the new iDoneThis event to my daily diary.

I’ve resisted using it for awhile even though many of my colleagues have raved about it, preferring instead to keep things simple by throwing completed tasks into a blank Note every day. Now that I have a massive collection of Notes, though, with no easy way to search them (especially since I have a lot of non-diary Notes thrown in there for good measure, too), it was time for me to try something actually useful for a change. So far, so very good.

Now if only they’d change the name. As a writer with a bit of an OCD tendency to mentally correct poor grammar on billboards and movie titles, hearing and reading iDoneThis evokes a reaction somewhat akin to the noise produced by fingernails on a chalkboard. I mean, okay, iDidThis.com has been registered since 2007 (based on a quick whois search), but surely there were other, less grating options?

On the other hand, it has a nice, edgy sound to it. Plus, sometimes when I look at my daily diary and see a long list of completed tasks, I do feel like pumping my fist and declaring, “Yeah, I done this!” The grammatically correct alternative just doesn’t sound quite as emphatic or powerful, you know?

Remembering the Milk, Moving on to Wunderlist

Standard

One of the things I love about working at a place like Automattic is being surrounded by like-minded folks obsessed about productivity. Our internal operations manual even has entire pages devoted to particular productivity apps like Alfred (<3) and Things. Much of the conversation is driven by my colleague Bryan V., who is the productivity master, but overall Automatticians are very much a productivity-driven bunch of folks.

I wasn’t always this way. Before I got my first smartphone (a Palm Centro in 2008), I relied exclusively on a hefty Day-Timer. Bulky and packed with Post-Its, business cards, and receipts, it nevertheless served me well for years – I ran my entire freelance writing career on it and somehow managed to accomplish way more than you’d think considering how limited a paper planner seems now.

Once I launched my social media/content marketing agency in 2009, though, whatever latent obsession I had with productivity and efficiency suddenly bloomed and I found myself trying out ever project management tool, task manager, to-do app, and calendar app on the market. Seriously, name a project management tool, and chances are, I’ve at least researched it. Especially after I began hiring contractors and other freelancers, my need to find the perfect productivity tool expanded, and I must have subjected my poor brain to a new tool every month. I somehow managed to get things done, but I was frazzled with the learning curve each new tool demanded.

Eventually, it dawned on me that the tool itself wasn’t the problem. I was the problem. What I needed wasn’t the perfect tool but rather the dedication to actually using the damn thing. Anyone halfway familiar with how productivity works understands that, but despite my college degree and graduate education, apparently that basic fact escaped me for years.

So I picked the app that seemed both the simplest and most comprehensive: Remember the Milk. I used it for a few years, moving it from my old Nexus 4 to my current Moto X and then my iPad. I even paid the annual $25 subscription fee for premium features, primarily the on-demand sync option. When I find an app that helps me get things done, I’m more than happy to pay the developers to help them continue maintaining and updating it.

Recently, though, I’ve been trying out Wunderlist, which I’d experimented with a couple of years before but somehow dropped. I don’t remember why, but the current interface on the Android is beautiful, yet still minimal. Unlike Remember the Milk, where all your tasks for the day are just thrown into one big list, I can view my entire day’s tasks on Wunderlist on one page, broken down into different categories. I can just focus on my Work tasks when I’m at my desk, but also scroll down quickly to view the Phone Calls list or the Emails list if I find myself with spare pockets of time during the day. I don’t ever have to leave that particular page.

wunderlist to-do app review

Plus, bonus: Wunderlist also has a handy-dandy Chrome browser extension that lets me add any page on the web to my to-do list, and even categorize it right within the extension.

I still have my Remember the Milk account, but I haven’t looked at it in several weeks as I’ve been resting out Wunderlist. I have a feeling it will be a keeper, especially since it’s free. There’s a Pro version, but it seems to be largely for businesses or freelancers, so while I’m happy to pay for an app I use all day, everyday, if I don’t need to, $25 is still $25.