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Wrangling Excellence

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Today marked a big change for me at work.

For the past 4+ years, I worked as a Happiness Engineer supporting WordPress.com and the WordPress apps. I spent roughly the first two years working in the WordPress.com Support Forums, and I found that I loved providing public support and troubleshooting the incredible range of issues that arose there. I spent the past two years supporting the WordPress apps, and over time I got more and more involved in testing them as well.

As I spent time developing on my own manual testing approach, working with beta testing communities, exploring the support/development feedback loop, and encouraging my coworkers’ troubleshooting skills, I also kept an eye on a team being formed at Automattic around automated testing and bug prioritization. I worked with and learned from them as more discussions arose around testing and quality within our fast-paced, distributed environment. And although I enjoyed helping people use WordPress, I discovered that my favorite work was helping development teams understand our customers’ needs and identify what issues most needed their attention.

Earlier this year, I finally decided to build on my existing coding skills to try my hand at automated testing. With some guidance, I developed the first suite of UI tests for a new editor (codenamed “Aztec”) for the WordPress for iOS app. Later I added a suite of UI tests for the same editor for WordPress for Android. I also worked with a coworker to automate screenshots of the WordPress.com signup flow in multiple languages, to help our internationalization team review those localized flows. Some of this work was part of a trial, as I applied internally to change roles.

That work and study paid off, and today I started my first day as an Excellence Wrangler. I’ll be automating tests, doing manual testing, triaging bugs reports, and generally helping our support and development teams communicate and prioritize to create the best experience possible for our customers.

And if that excitement wasn’t enough, I also had a delivery that I’ve been waiting on since I hit my four-year anniversary at Automattic — a new laptop with the WordPress logo:

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How Providing Customer Support is Like Defusing a Bomb

I recently read How To Be Calm Under Pressure: 3 Secrets From A Bomb Disposal Expert (via Swiss Miss) and immediately connected its 3 secrets with 3 guiding principles for providing customer support. I recommend you read the full article, but here’s a recap of the 3 secrets along with my observations about how they connect to support:

  1. Do a threat assessment. While you may not be defusing a literal bomb, a customer in distress can make you feel like you are. Don’t panic. Assess the customer’s problem and try to think of a similar problem you have handled in the past. This makes the problem less intimidating and gives you a place to start troubleshooting or resolving it.
  2. Emphasize the positive and what you can control. Is the customer facing a bug? Did they experience a serious problem with your product? Focus on positive aspects of the situation and actions you have the power to take for the customer. That could mean providing workarounds that you know about, making small fixes you know will help, or even bigger solutions like proactively offering the customer a refund if something went really wrong.
  3. Focus on the next step. Don’t try to solve the entire problem in one shot. Focus instead on just the next step you need to take. Did you just uncover a giant bug in the product? Set that aside for a moment and focus on this one customer and how to help them first. Not sure what went wrong or how to help the customer? Focus on talking through the problem so you understand it fully. In other words, think about just that one thing you need to do next, to avoid getting overwhelmed.

These general guidelines have helped me handle any number of stressful situations with apparent ease, including the pressure of being on the front lines of customer support. I hope they serve you well!

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Work, Time, & Capitalism

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that within a century, economic growth would mean that we would be working no more than 15 hours per week – whereupon humanity would face its greatest challenge: that of figuring out how to use all those empty hours. Economists still argue about exactly why things turned out so differently, but the simplest answer is “capitalism”. Keynes seems to have assumed that we would naturally throttle down on work once our essential needs, plus a few extra desires, were satisfied. Instead, we just keep finding new things to need.

Why time management is ruining our lives | The Guardian

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Innovation v. Maintenance

Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there?

Innovation is overvalued. Maintenance often matters more | Aeon Essays