Oak crisps and iron skies: October haiku

October 20, 2014 § 3 Comments

October bridge with green and yellow leaves by Andrea Badgley on Butterfly Mind

Scent of tree bark
and earth, I crunch
through the forest.

Warm acorns
flecked with gold:
our child’s hazel eyes.

Maples sway,
dangling rubies
in the sun.

Saffron sheaves
tremble – a rustle
of skirts.

Under iron clouds
leaves rattle -
paper husks before a storm.

Shiver, shudder, swivel,
and twirl free.

End over end,
an oak leaf

Gold coins caught
in tender green needles – bright
ornaments for autumn.

I scratch broom across
stone, drawing mossy oak spices.
A crow caws.

Late afternoon:
cool wine, a
strong slant of light.

Fall is happening

October 11, 2014 § 9 Comments

October in our parking lot by Andrea Badgley on Butterfly Mind


I always think of spring as being the beautiful season, with its bright pink flowers, its new green leaves, and the reawakening to life after the cold hardness of winter. But the deep tones of fall – the mustards, the rubies – remind me that there is as exquisite a beauty in going to sleep as there is in waking up.

This photograph was taken on a rainy October day in our townhouse parking lot. The mundane scene was beautiful to me, and this photo is my entry to the Daily Post’s Dreamy photo challenge.

A day in the life of a Happiness Engineer: word counts

October 9, 2014 § 6 Comments

Word Output of Happiness Engineer Andrea Badgley on October 8, 2014

Several friends have asked, “How’s your writing going?” now that I’ve got a full-time job. While I haven’t been writing as much for my blogs as I was when I was a stay-at-home-mom, I am excited that my job as a Happiness Engineer involves writing All. Day. Long.

Even more thrilling, especially for a writer working on craft, the types of writing I do throughout the day are varied and hone different types of skills: bug reports and internal blog posts require technical writing; support documents require the ability to translate technical information into understandable language; support replies and chat messages call for skill with tone, specificity, and brevity. Most fun is that the internal messaging we do through Slack allows me to write like I talk – it’s the place to write easily and with humor, especially in our water cooler channels where we goof off and post lots of GIFs.

This week I and many Automatticians have been writing about our workdays, and today I want to approach from a writing angle, with word count estimates pulled from my Wednesday workday.

For a little background, I am a Happiness Engineer on the Store team, and my days consist mainly of providing live chat support to Business and Enterprise users. What this means is that I am always working to improve the WordPress.com experience by troubleshooting issues live with users, by submitting bug reports, updating documents, testing, and by being in constant internal communication with teammates. While on live chat, we collaborate in real-time on Slack. We troubleshoot together so we can give the best possible solution to the user on the line.

What this means is that we all read and write. A lot. And quickly. So I thought it would be interesting to look at my day in terms of communication inputs and outputs. The graph above shows an estimated word count output for Wednesday, October 8, not including this blog post, which I count as personal word count (Slack and O2s/P2s are our internal communication tools):

Support Chat messages: 250+ (2500+ words in 14 chats)
Internal Slack messages: 240+ (2400+ words)
Support tickets answered: 12 (1600+ words)
O2 comments: 7 (189 words)
O2 posts: 1 (82 words)
Trac tickets: 1 (65 words)
Support docs updated: 1 (14 words)
Words spoken aloud: 1
emails: 0
TOTAL: 6769+ words

**Number of times I laughed out loud: 14

By the time I manually added up estimated my word output, I did not have it in me to go back and calculate the word count for all the O2 posts, O2 comments, Slack back scrolls, live chat messages, and tickets I read today, so I’ll break it down by unit instead of word count:

Communication input and output Andrea Badgley Happiness Engineer

Communication input and output for Oct 8, 2014

I found it funny that I only spoke one word aloud during my work day. The one word I spoke was “Bye!” as we all signed off of our team video hangout.

You’ll probably notice something strange there on the email line as well: those 40+ emails I read were notifications of blogs I follow that are relevant to my work or to the company as a whole. We do not use email as a means of communication for the most part – we interact via Slack, where we text chat synchronously, and via blogs that are open to the entire company. Unlike email, which is closed and only available to the senders and recipients, all company communication is archived and available for anyone at Auttomattic to read and participate in. This makes Automattic an extraordinarily democratic, and empowering, work environment: every Automattician has access to everything. I think a lot of work environments would benefit from the open discussion that inline commenting on a blog facilitates when compared with the closed system of email.

So how’s my writing going? It’s going awesome. With all the practice I’m getting on the job, and as our family settles into a new routine to accommodate me working again, I’m slowly adding personal writing back into my life as well. In fact, this post bumps my total word count to 7000+ words for the day. Not bad for a writer who’s trying to make time to write.

In an effort to get to know each other’s work days better, and to share publicly what it is like to work for a distributed company where most of us work from home, some of us at Automattic will be publishing “A Day in the Life” posts on our personal blogs throughout this week. The posts will be tagged #a8cday if you’d like to follow along. And if you think a job like this sounds awesome, join us! We’re hiring.

A day in the life of a Happiness Engineer: Tuesday

October 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

Rainy day by Andrea Badgley on Butterfly Mind

Rainy Tuesday at home office

I wasn’t sure if I’d be writing a whole series this week on my life as an Automattician, but today was so different from yesterday, I felt compelled. My Monday Day in the Life was very, well, Monday, with scheduling and time slots and laundry and my first attempt at training new hires.

And today? Today I’m listening to the rain and wind outside my “office”* window. I’m wearing slippers and a sweatshirt from our daughter’s swim team, and though it seems strange to say it when the only sounds I hear any day are the tapping of my fingers on my keyboard and the gentle chime notifying me when people are logging onto chat, today was much quieter than yesterday. Yesterday was action. Today was contemplation.

I started my day at 6:00 am, just as I’ve done for the past two years before I landed this job. I love the quiet of morning, and I used to get up at 6:00 am to write and drink my coffee before the household wakes up. After a long writing-related conversation with a coworker yesterday, I pulled out my pen and composition book while my coffee brewed this morning, and I wrote again for the first time in weeks.

Thanks for that Wendy.

After writing, I sat on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table and read some of Wendy’s fiction, along with the Day in the Life posts of other coworkers, while I relaxed into the day. Tuesdays are one of my early days – early to start and early to end – when my husband is on deck for lunchboxes and bus stop. On Tuesdays and Fridays I start work early so that I can finish up the day in time to squeeze in an afternoon walk or swim. Along with writing, exercise has lost its place in my new-life-with-a-full-time-job, and we are iterating on our family schedule to build it back in.

I moved down to my desk around 7:15 when the kids woke up, and I started working through some of my followups from yesterday – notifying a user about a bug that wasn’t actually a bug, notifying a user about a bug that was actually a bug, giving feedback to the training core team on how my training session went – and lots of reading on the internal P2s. When I transitioned to full time, the hiring squad set me up with a mentor, Caroline. I told her recently, “I’ve spent the past couple of days reading relevant P2 posts, there’s no ‘product’ at the end of that – no ticket or chat closed – so it feels like I’m slacking off, you know?”

She knew.

I am guilty of thinking I’m ‘not working’ when I’m reading P2s,” she said, “But that’s a huge part of our jobs! It’s all the talks and meetings we’d have if we were working in a traditional office. So it’s still important, and counts.

Thank you for that Caroline.

So today I thought, and I wrote, and I read, and I chatted. Live chat got a little crazy for a bit this morning when I was trying to help one user set up a complicated theme, help another user troubleshoot a domain issue, follow up on a ticket, answer a VIP plugin chat, and respond to a ping from a Happiness Engineer trial regarding plans and upgrades.

I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague. – from the Automattic creed.

Part of a Happiness Engineer’s job is to engineer happiness for everyone – users and coworkers alike – and while I put the ticket on hold and tackled other issues, HEs on the Store and VIP teams helped me with the domain and plugin issues while I helped with the theme and upgrade issues. It is chaos, but it’s a refined chaos that works, with everyone working together to help each other find not just solutions, but a rewarding, human experience.

During lunch I lined up the resources I need to enroll in the company 401K plan, took care of a couple more followups, and then I set up a lunch date for Friday. I love the solitude of working from home, but there is a definite danger of becoming a hermit, so I scheduled time to get out into the world on Friday and have lunch with my husband. We’ll get food we can never convince the kids to eat, like Indian or Thai. Or maybe Mexican.

In the afternoon I fielded more live chats and updated the support document for the Stay theme. Several users in chat have had trouble setting up the Slider, so with some help from the Theme team I was able to get the instructions in a little bit better shape.

Since I started early today, I was able to wrap up my day just as my son was walking in the door from school. I considered staying online and working more, but I know I need to write and exercise to keep myself me. Posts from other Automatticians in this series have shown me it’s not only okay to sign off at the end of the day, or to take breaks for walks or to watch a baseball game in the middle of the day, but that it’s good to do that.

I did productive work today, but I also thought a lot and recharged. And thanks to that thinking and recharging, I know, as Hemingway always advised writers to know at the end of the day, where I will begin tomorrow.

*My office is a desk in our basement rec room.

In an effort to get to know each other’s work days better, and to share publicly what it is like to work for a distributed company where most of us work from home, some of us at Automattic will be publishing “A Day in the Life” posts on our personal blogs throughout this week. The posts will be tagged #a8cday if you’d like to follow along.

A day in the life of a Happiness Engineer: Monday

October 6, 2014 § 7 Comments

Andrea Badgley: Happiness EngineerIn an effort to get to know each other’s work days better, and to share publicly what it is like to work for a distributed company where most of us work from home, some of us at Automattic will be publishing “A Day in the Life” posts on our personal blogs throughout this week. The posts will be tagged #a8cday if you’d like to follow along.

As for me, here is what my Monday looked like:

6:00: Wake up. Make coffee. Empty dishwasher and pack lunchboxes.

6:30: Snuggle into a cushy chair in our living room with coffee and laptop. Finish up this morning’s Day in the Life: Intro post; log on to Slack and say goodmorafternight to coworkers in the US, UK, Malaysia, Indonesia; catch up on internal P2s (blogs).

7:00: Move downstairs to desk. Log on to live chat. Read through training guidelines and gather resources for 11AM training session. Check in with buddy on Theme team who is helping Happiness in her support rotation this week. Provide support in chat and tickets for:

8:00: Log off to take kids to the bus stop, eat breakfast, shower, throw a load of laundry in the washer.

9:00: Log on to chat. Decipher phone message tickets. Troubleshoot with users:

10:45: Log off chat. Break for snack. Switch over laundry.

11:00: Train two incoming Happiness Engineer trials, along with a new Code Wrangler and a new Theme Wrangler who are starting their Automattic tenure, as all Automatticians do, with a three week Support rotation. Train in a channel in Slack using text chat.

12:30: Ten minute break from training. Drink a V8 and eat some almonds. Switch over more laundry.

12:40: Introduce trainees to how we work through tickets, where to find answers, where to ask for help, what kinds of tools we use. Hope I’m not overwhelming them!

2:10: Wrap up training, break for lunch. Guess what else? Yep. More laundry.

2:45: Log on to live chat. Talk writing with a teammate. Check in with Editorial about helping with Blogging U in November. Troubleshoot infinite scroll issue on test site. Help users:

  • set up slider on Stay theme; make a note that support doc needs to be updated
  • navigation bar on mobile site
  • custom menus

4:00: Log off of chat. Follow up with users on unresolved issues from morning chats. Finish up troubleshooting on test site and submit a bug report for infinite scroll issue.

4:45: Receive notification a bug reported of the weekend has been squashed. Receive feedback regarding infinite scroll issue. Make notes to follow up in the morning.

5:00: Write this post.

6:00: Convince the kids to fold all the laundry (by bribing them with extra screen time). Hang out with family and start thinking about making dinner. Mmmm, spaghetti…

Think this sounds awesome? Work with us!

A day in the life of a Happiness Engineer: Introduction

October 6, 2014 § 4 Comments

Happiness Engineer Venn Diagram by Andrea Badgley on Butterfly Mind

Happiness Engineer Venn Diagram

When I applied for my job as a Happiness Engineer, I wasn’t entirely sure what the job would entail. The job title is unique, for sure, and when I wore my Happiness Engineer T-shirt on my way to the company’s Grand Meetup, three different people stopped me to ask “What’s a Happiness Engineer?” All three smiled when I told them.

Before I became an Automattician, I’d seen Happiness Engineers write Daily Post and Hot off the Press articles, speak at WordCamps, provide live support in Happiness Bars at WordCamps, answer questions in the public forums, and answer my own questions about my blog through email requests. Given that knowledge, I created the above Venn diagram for my résume when I applied.

Once I started working as a Happiness Engineer, though, I realized there need to be about 20 more fields in that diagram: Domain Dominator, Toy Tester, P2 Poster, Ticket Translator, User Empathizer, Live Chat Champion. Even now, I only know what my day looks like, and not what other HEs’ days look like.

Over the next week, many Happiness Engineers and other Automatticians, including myself, will be sharing “A Day in the Life” posts on our personal blogs. I’ve got a big day planned today – I’ll be training new Happiness trials for my first time – but I’ll try to keep notes so I can share with you when the day is done. If you have any questions or special requests for what you’d like to see in my post(s), please let me know in the comments below. And if you think you’d like to work with us but aren’t quite clear on what the job might entail, be sure to follow along! We will be using the tag #a8cday.

The heft of an old Minolta

October 2, 2014 § 9 Comments

I first published this two years ago today. As I plan to head back to John’s camera shop to finally buy the 50mm lens I’ve been wanting for five years, I thought I’d post it again. Enjoy.

It was a damp, drizzly day here in Blacksburg. There was no direct light, just a gray, overcast sky – a perfect backdrop for the saturated colors of slick, wet leaves, dripping and mostly green, but with October pops of yellow, orange, and red.

And a perfect diffused-light day for photography.

It’s been a while since I’ve paid much attention to my photography. Mostly I snap quick shots to make sure we have mementos of our kids’ childhood – their cute chubby faces, their missing teeth, the glee in their eyes at Disney World. But lately, especially after hiking in the mountains here, I’m feeling an itch to photograph more – the dozens of varieties of mushrooms we saw on the War Spur Overlook, the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail on our first return to it since my husband’s 500 mile hike in 1996. But more importantly, I want to take more care in the photographs I take.

So I took my fancy digital camera over to John’s Camera Corner, a little downtown shop tucked in next to the hookah lounge and across the street from The Rivermill (the bar that inspired my Life in a college town. With kids. post), to get the lens cleaned up and get a filter to protect it from grubby little fingers.

I walked in and it was like walking back in time. The walls were lined with old cameras – film cameras.  Brownie, Pentax, Minolta, Canon. A darkroom condenser reminiscent of the ones I used during a workshop at SCAD was propped in the corner. Old camera bags, lenses, and filters littered the floor and shelves, and by the glass display case at the cash register, there was a postcard spinner with antique photos of Blacksburg. I wandered around with my mouth open, touching cameras, recognizing equipment, until John asked if he could help me. While he searched for his lens cleaning kit, patting his pockets like the grandpa in The Princess Bride, feeling absently for lens tissue, lens cleaner, lens caps, or whatever else he might have misplaced, I told him, “Wow, this is awesome. I used to be into photography in high school. Look! Photographic paper!” On a rack in front of me were the distinctive white boxes of Ilford black & white paper. “Makes me miss my old camera, and film…”

“The smell of fixer,” he said.

And I could smell the ammonia again. “Yeah,” I smiled, “And the smell of fixer.”

John found an old Nikon UV filter for me ($10 vs. the $40 a new one would have cost), and while he cleaned up my lens, I wandered over to the Minolta wall of camera bodies. I wondered, could it be here? And there it was – my very first camera. The Minolta SRT 101. My grandfather’s old camera. The camera he used to photograph his family and the world on his tours of duty in the Air Force.  The camera that captured my adolescence.

I picked up the Minolta in John’s shop, and as soon as I held it in my hand, I was 16 again, photographing my best friend on black and white film. The camera went straight to its natural place in my palm, the heft of it supremely satisfying, my right thumb on the film advance lever. I pushed the lever and savored the phantom feel of film advancing. Pushed the shutter release and felt the solid, gratifying shudder of the shutter mechanism. All of my senses were engaged when I photographed with that camera. It was completely manual, so I was present in the taking of each photograph, adjusting for light, framing each shot, taking care because unlike digital photography, film was not only finite – 24 or 36 frames – but there was also a tremendous time lag between when you shot the film and when you could actually see what you shot. It was important to be precise and get it right with each release of the shutter, and that need for precision made me very mindful when I photographed.

These days, I set my camera on automatic and carelessly press an insubstantial button, thinking “eh, I’ll just take a bunch and then edit with GIMP when I get home.” And then take weeks to even put the images on the computer. And then never make a print of a single one. The images are just pixels of light that disappear with the click of a mouse button, and the whole experience is like eating refined flour. It leaves me hungry.

But as I stood there in John’s camera shop, not even forty years old and already reminiscing about the good old days, I recognized that as much as I loved that old Minolta, and as much as I loved shooting and processing and printing film, it is outdated and has gone the way of the typewriter (RIP). My manual Minolta forced me to be present, and I’m thankful for that because it taught me the principles of photography. It made me work for every image, and because of that work, the images are imprinted in my brain as much as they are printed on that Ilford black and white paper.

I also recognized, feeling the sturdy weight of the camera, that we no longer live in that time.  And I’m okay with that.  Holding that old Minolta in my hand reminded me of my old love for photography, and of the good old days, but as I placed it back on the shelf, I remembered the limitations of film that led me to a digital camera – a young family, precious little leisure time, a budget that does not allow for endless film and processing. A digital culture that is phasing out film and the processing of it.

I loved my Minolta. It is as much a part of my shaping as the clink of my dad’s ring on the stainless steel wheel of our boat. Now that we have kids, I hope my digital Nikon will find a similar place in my heart.

Thanks to John, that Nikon is all cleaned up and ready to go shooting. And thanks to this drizzly gray day, and the heft of that Minolta, I’m ready to take the time to work for a shot, and bring home a pretty picture.


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