Growing up, I had two very different examples for how to approach work. My dad worked as a software engineer for the same company for his entire career. My mom, on the other hand, had a more eclectic career: she was a social worker, a computer programmer, a teen counselor, and a researcher and is now a full-time volunteer.
Well, I inherited my dad’s eyes and my mom’s need for new challenges. 😉
On my way to getting a PhD in Anthropology, I realized it wasn’t leading me in the right direction. I was studying linguistic anthropology, fascinated by bilingual cultures, code switching, language socialization, and identity. But as much as I loved academia, I wasn’t really suited to being an academic. So I finished my master’s and took a break to try something new.
That “something new” landed me in the nonprofit sector. I started by interning at a cross-border philanthropic organization that worked with community foundations. After that, I spent a few years working for a dance company. (I wanted to try something completely different, and I love dance.) I had the privilege of hanging out in the studio when I wasn’t busy managing the website and database, acting as a box office, processing donations, helping with grants, … pretty much doing whatever needed to be done. Being around those artists was inspiring.
But eventually I got itchy feet, and my love for languages and other cultures was calling to me. So I started freelancing as a translator. I got certified, did some teaching, and eventually moved abroad. Translation was immensely satisfying — every project required a bit (or a lot) of research, creativity, and writing. But still, something was missing. Freelancing can be a lonely endeavor, and I wanted to spend more time working and less time hunting for work.
While I was freelancing, I ended up taking a couple computer science courses online. I had always enjoyed coding here and there, and jumping to a new industry sounded more exciting to me than becoming a project manager in the internationalization industry. At the time I had a blog on WordPress.com and a self-hosted WordPress website for my freelance business, and I spent some of my free time giving my mom tips on how to use WordPress for her own projects. I distinctly remember a conversation with her that went something like this:
“My coding skills aren’t advanced enough for me to be a developer, but I understand the code and I can explain the software to regular people. I wish there were a job out there where I could get paid to teach people how to use WordPress and be a go-between for users and developers.”
I had pretty succinctly described what a Happiness Engineer does. But I didn’t know that, so off I went to search for technical-but-not-developer roles in software companies. I was living in Germany but didn’t have the German skills to get hired locally, so I started looking for remote work. That suited me well enough, as I had been a freelancer and enjoyed working from home.
And then I saw it. Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, was hiring Happiness Engineers. After a stint volunteering in the WordPress support forums, I got up the nerve to send in my application. After a bit of a wait, an interview, and a trial run, I was hired. And over a year later, I’m helping users in the forums, supporting our internationalization team, testing and reporting issues to our developers, and generally having a blast.
Who knows? Maybe now I’m becoming more like my dad. 🙂
Is your job history as eclectic as mine? No worries! If you’re eager to learn and you can see yourself in one of Automattic’s open positions, give it a try — we’re hiring.