Welcome to Chaos

Recently, I joined Automattic. This is a word-wild distributed company. The first three weeks you incarn a Happiness Engineer. This is part of the Happiness Rotation duty. This article explains why I loved it, and why I reckon you should do it too.

Happiness Engineer, really?

Does it sound mad as a Cheshire cat? Pretentious maybe? Actually, it’s not at all.

As a Happiness Engineer, I had to make the support. This is part of the Happiness Rotation: Once a year, almost everyone swaps its position to help our users. I will go back on this later.

My role was to make our users happy. To achieve that, I had to:

  • Meet our users, understand who they are, what they want to achieve,
  • Listen to and understand their issues,
  • Find a way to fix the issues.

Meet the users

I need motivations in my job. Learning who our users are, and what they want to achieve, is a great motivation. After these three weeks, I know what my contributions will serve. It gives a meaning to each contribution, to each day I wake up.

Especially in a distributed company on Internet, our users are world-wide, they speak almost all the languages on Earth, they are present on all continents. Their needs vary a lot, they use our softwares in ways I was not able to foresee.

Listen to, understand, and fix their issues

When you are chatting with a “support guy”, you cannot imagine this is a real engineer. This is not a random person filling a pre-defined vague form somewhere where it is cheap to hire her. You will chat with someone very competent. Someone that has no superior. Someone that has all the tools to make you happy.

Personally, when I started, it was the first time I was using WordPress. I was more novice than the user I was talking to. So how to fix it on my end? I had to:

  • Ask help to the right persons,
  • Therefore, meet Automatticians (people working with Automattic),
  • Discover all the interactions between them,
  • Understand the structure of the company,
  • How to ask help, how to formulate my questions, how to reformulate the issues of the users…
  • Discover all the internal tools,
  • Therefore, learn how the softwares work internally and together,
  • Discover the giant internal and public documentations,
  • When needed, create bug reports or feature requests to the appropriated teams,
  • Learn the culture of the company.

This is why it is called Welcome to Chaos. Yes, you have to learn a lot in three weeks, but it is extremely educative. This is like a speed training.

Happiness

I can ensure that when a user is grateful after you fixed its issue, the term Happiness Engineer makes a lot of sense. Automattic provides a lot of freedom to their Happiness Engineers to make people really happy, both in term of tooling or financial.

This is the first time I see a company that is that much generous with its customers.

Thanks buddy

Of course, when embracing the chaos, you are not alone. Everyone is here to help you, and to answer your questions. After all, this is part of the Automattic’s creed (story of the creed):

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

In addition to everyone willing to help, a buddy was assigned to me. A person that helps and teaches you everytime. This is very helpful. Thank you Hannah!

Happiness Rotation

This experience is great. But after some time, you might forget it. So as a reminder, once a year, you incarn a Happiness Engineer again. This is part of the happiness rotation. As far as I understand, it implies almost everyone in the company.

Note: Obviously, there is permanent happiness engineers.

Conclusion

I deeply think this approach has many advantages. Some of them are listed above. It helps to understand the company, and more importantly the users. The happiness rotation stresses the fact that users are central to Automattic, probably like any companies, but not with this care. Remember the creed: I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. To have passionate and loyal users, you need to know them.

For me, it was a great experience. It was chaotic at first, but it is worth it.

3 thoughts on “Welcome to Chaos

  1. It sounds like you enjoyed your experience as a Happiness Engineer! I’m submitting myself for candidacy this week and enjoy reading all of these stories. I’ve been intrigued by them all and look forward to a chance at joining the team! Thanks for sharing Ivan

    -Matthew

    Liked by 1 person

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