A Day In the Life of a Nomad Happiness Engineer

I didn’t plan to travel a lot this summer. I knew I’d be headed home and to the World Cup but suddenly the list of travel destinations this summer has grown:

  • Vancouver
  • Portland, OR
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Washington, DC
  • Boulder, CO
  • Orlando, FL
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Possibly LA or San Diego, CA

I’m in Vancouver currently camped out for the month. From there, I’ll spend the next two months in most of those locations listed above. Needless to say, this confounds people including, apparently, border control:

Canadian Border Control: “Why are you here?”

Me: “For the World Cup!” 🙂

Canadian Border Control: “Your employer let you have a month of vacation…?”

Me: “Have you heard of WordPress….”

Traveling and working can be a lot to juggle. In particular, the search for WiFi suddenly becomes a top priority. This has become especially important since we now have turned our focus to live chat as a company. I work on the VaultPress squad and, for me, chats tend to either be related to a site self destructing or someone with a simple question about our plans. There are very rarely those in between moments. Either way, most of the time someone reaches out I’ve found they are either on the verge of purchasing VaultPress or in dire need to put this product they purchased to good use for one reason or another. This makes WiFi not cutting out on you incredibly important. Rather than just it taking a bit longer to finally send that message back to a person via a ticket, shaky WiFi can result in you essentially hanging up on someone. My advice: do your research beforehand on good WiFi spots. In my case, this was asking my airbnb host to run a speed test for me!

Once the WiFi is taken care of, the next step is figuring out the best schedule so that you can juggle exploring with working. I’m in charge of VaultPress and Polldaddy support currently along with a couple of side projects. At the end of the day, it’s awesome to be responsive immediately to users via live chat but, since we aren’t 100% there, tickets are still incredibly important to pay attention.

To start the day, I’ll check my email and catch up on missed p2s. From there, I do what I like to think of as a gut check. This essentially means I’ll log into both VaultPress and Polldaddy ticket queues to gauge where we are at in terms of getting down to 0-4 recent tickets open (my personal goal). When I say recent, I mean I’m not going to leave an older ticket open but I am willing to leave a ticket that just came in a minute ago open in order to jump on chat. Most of the time this works in my favor as I tend to catch the person who wrote in on chat and am able to provide a better experience! However, only when tickets are that low do I like to jump on and begin chatting. Why? Simply put: you never know what kind of issue you may encounter on chat and I want to know that I can spend as much time as I need to with a user without worrying about tickets piling up. In line with this, when I get a VaultPress chat I immediately set myself to away until I can better gauge what kind of issue a user is having. If it’s just a question about our plans, I leave myself open for more chats. If I can tell it’s going to be technical, I give my complete attention. This doesn’t work for every team as many of my coworkers juggle multiple chats all day. My little brain can’t handle that. Also, VaultPress is just a bit of a different beast and I’ve found I can handle doing live chat throughout the week a lot better if I am constantly gauging where our support stands as a whole.

In the same line of thought, I’m continuing to check on tickets and answer tickets throughout my time on chat. Unlike WordPress.com support where they can easily be bombarded with chats, VaultPress can stay fairly quiet! When we first started offering chat support, I could sit on there for 6 hours without getting a single chat. In response to this, we’ve made some UI changes to help encourage more people to contact us which has in turn increased the frequency of chats.

One of my biggest worries about both traveling and doing live chat was the conundrum of having a person on live chat yet needing to go somewhere. There are games that I have tickets to that I NEED to be at. On the flip side, there are people who have sites that NEED to be restored. How do you balance the two in order to provide productive support? This is where my amazing team of developers comes into play. Right now, there are only 3 Happiness Engineers. We roughly cover most of the day other than about 8PM PST to 1AM PST. As a result, I’m often the only Happiness Engineer online chatting. My mom once asked me if this was isolating. On paper it may seem like it but when you see “behind the curtain” of VaultPress you realize I have an entire team of 5 developers supporting me.

At Automattic we use the p2 theme to basically curate a feed of current issues, important posts/updates, etc. Within VaultPress, we’ve implemented a support rotation amongst the developers so that Happiness Engineers like me always have a go to person to ping. The combination of these two things provides me with a safety net throughout the entirety of any chat I have. I know that no matter what, I can post to my team’s p2 and get help. This means that while I’m traveling and might need to catch a bus, I can p2 it and leave knowing it will be taken care of. Beyond that, part of the Automattic Creed states, “I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague”. The developers on my team have taken this to heart. Each week, I have at least 2 other developers outside of the one designated for support issues helping me resolving issues that arise. Often this happens in real time while I have the person on live chat which is awesome as we can give and get immediate feedback from a person in order to help them. Ticket threads that could have lasted days now just take an hour or so to sort out thanks to chat. To some, an hour on a chat may seem like a failure. However, in light of the complexity of issues that can come up with VaultPress, this is definitely a success.

So… what did today look like then?

8-10: Getting out of bed, making breakfast, reading emails, reading p2 posts, checking the queues, following up with users after developers have responded to p2 posts from yesterday overnight.

10-11: Bust out tickets for VaultPress to get them low enough to jump on live chat. Post to p2 about an odd issue with a restore.

11-1: Jump on live chat and begin diving into Polldaddy tickets.

1-2:30: Break for lunch and for some solo ticket time. Wrote a quick blog post about a beautiful bike ride I took. Queues are now down to 0 for VaultPress and 8 for Polldaddy.

2:30-5: Jump back into live chat. Keep Polldaddy queue open in order to bring tickets down to 2. The 2 leftover are tagged for the developer.

5-10: Grocery shopping, dinner, talk with friends, catch up on personal email, read.

10-11: Write this post 🙂

As you can see, I jump in and out of ticket work and live chat. Most days are like this with some requiring more blocked off chunks of time for side projects I’m working on. Otherwise though, today was a VERY boring and normal day. Rewind to Sunday – Monday and you’ll get a different story. I had tickets on Monday to two soccer games at BC Place stadium. On top of that, the US was playing Australia and I wanted to watch with other fans (not fun to watch your team alone). The solution? I just time shifted and worked 3-4 hours Sunday night in order to take off around 2PM on Monday to go for a run then head to the games. This will likely happen again while I’m here despite me taking some time off for the really important games I want to go to. The best part is that my team simply adjusts and continues moving forward like a well oiled machine. As long as I communicate in time (communication is oxygen), the world spins madly on in VaultPress land.

Over and out.


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