WordCamp 2017 Talk Submissions

It’s time to look forward to WordCamp US at the end of the year: seeing lots of familiar faces, attending fantastic sessions by creative and knowledgeable people, and volunteering to help create a great event for every attendee.

Last year, I gave a lightning talk on code review that I thought went very well; it was an adaptation of a talk I gave earlier in the year at WordCamp St. Louis based on the experience I’ve had with code review as a culture-centric thing at Automattic and specifically on the WordPress.com VIP team.

The deadline for talk submissions for this year is tomorrow, and so far, I have submitted two talks (I’ll bring up the third in a bit here):

Security, the VIP Way

My VIP team colleagues suggested this topic. We deal with some pretty large sites with lots of users, and can be the target of attacks by unsavory people, so we have developed security policies and best practices that we have found to be successful. I think I could relay some of these practices and give good examples in an engaging way.

I submitted this as a 50-minute talk, but it could be adapted as a lightning talk. I think this talk is pretty straightforward and would need some creative slide deck management to make it my particular style of engaging.

User Support: Playing to Win

OK, so this one is a long shot—and to be honest, I haven’t written it yet, but it’s nearly-fully-formed in my head. Support has been my career for over a decade now.

I have also played fighting games for a huge chunk of my life, but only in the last few years have I taken playing them seriously and competitively.

Fighting games are about resource management, spacing, timing, and adaptation. It struck me at one point that a lot of that is very similar to how I approach support interactions. I want to find a way to bridge those metaphors in a talk.

This would almost definitely be a lightning talk, and I submitted it that way. The slide deck would be really challenging and enjoyable to create. I’m secretly hoping this one is chosen.

A Third Talk?

Just a bit earlier this evening, I considered submitting a third talk based on my blog post from last night, regarding advice for applying to Automattic. After I wrote it, it occurred to me that a lot of what I talk about in the back half of the post is less specific to Automattic and more interesting in the context of open-source-related companies, of which Automattic is one.

But when it came time to write the abstract, I couldn’t come up with a good way to frame the talk that wouldn’t come across as “hey, you should come work at Automattic.”

The concept I had: I would talk with some other people at other WordPress-ecosystem and maybe even other OSS-ecosystem companies, and gather some more information from them about their workplaces and what they like to see.

In the end, because of where I work, there are optics to consider. Does it come across as a recruitment effort? Some people might look at it and think that it does, especially since I would be referencing a post that’s specifically advice for people who might want to work here. What I would love to get across is that there are lots of great companies in WordPress orbit people can work for, or could start, and I suspect they share these open-source traits. It’d probably be interesting.

But I won’t be submitting that one. I feel comfortable talking on my own space here about the work culture of Automattic and why I love working there (and I do this often because it’s all true), but I’m not comfortable making that the subject of a talk at one of the two large-focus gatherings of people from all of the WordPress community. It could be interpreted in a way I’d rather not evoke if I can avoid it.

How’s The Third Talk Different from The First Talk?

(Thought I’d address it because I know someone will think it.)

To be concise: I think there’s a big difference between sharing best practices concerning the WordPress software and supporting users and giving a talk where my workplace is a focus. Bonus: at VIP, we work in partnership with various agencies and WordPress users, so many of those best practices have developed in active collaboration. I feel comfortable sharing those practices in a broader arena without making it overly Automattic-centric.

“Real Support”

If you have talked with me, my skepticism with regards to Avyd and what they are doing should not be much of a surprise at this point. (I hesitate to talk about it much because there are good people I respect who are doing business at and with Avyd and I am of course always worried about causing hurt.)

I need to say something about this, though.

Today, they are talking about the support they’ll offer as part of their service:

This reminded me of the job posting they’d put up a couple of weeks ago, about which I’d intended to say something more directly.

The listing is here, but I’m assuming that it will expire at some point, so I’ll put the pertinent bits below:

Responsibilities

  • Customer Service Representatives are responsible for handling our Client’s highest level of service issues to ensure customer issues are resolved in an efficient and timely manner. Agents provide knowledge and expertise to all online customers to effectively resolve any service-related, while balancing both the needs of the customer and the business.
  • Use empathy with the customer; allow them to vent frustrations, while staying in control of the conversation and maintaining focus.
  • Must be able to multi task
  • Follow up with customers to ensure issue has been resolved
  • Will be answering customer support tickets, inbound calls, and support chats.

Successful Candidates will have:

  • Previous Customer Service experience
  • Proficient in typing and computer skills
  • Energetic and motivated personality
  • Gaming knowledge
  • Available to work nights and weekends as needed
  • Be fluent in English
  • Team player
  • High School Diploma or equivalent

What We Offer:

  • Unparalleled work environment
  • Unlimited growth from within
  • Paid training
  • Continued development beyond entry level
  • Travel opportunities
  • Career advancement into management

On its own, that’s mostly fine. It’s a lot of attention-splitting, and the bit about nights and weekends without specifically stating what that means is a little concerning.

And then you get to the stuff about “growth” from the support position. It’s so much of a focus that it’s literally half of the bullet points in the list of “What We Offer.” It’s a red flag, especially when you hit this part:

Job Type: Part-time

Salary: $10.00 /hour

I don’t suppose I need to state that this is in an office and not remote, because the job posting should lead you in that direction on its own.

This is troubling because it doesn’t see support as a worthwhile career in and of itself. I am growing to understand that my current employer is somewhat unique in this, but I want to see the idea and the respect for support professionals continue to grow.

User support has been my full-time, salaried and benefited career for the last six years. It supports my entire household. I have had different responsibilities and been on different teams, but through the whole thing, I have been well-appreciated and been given the ability to build my career on having pride in the fact that I make our customers’ and clients’ lives easier, and that the ability to do so in an exceptional way is deserving of being a full-time employee.

The wage and (lack of) benefits in this Avyd job posting is sadly reflective of how a lot of tech sees support. Support is a place where you go to wage slave until you earn yourself a place as a supervisor, when you make a bit more and maybe get full-time, and then after even more time you might end up in charge of support for something and possibly get a salary and benefits. Or you have the (often just a) pipe dream of learning another skill and changing job responsibilities, which is seen as a promotion simply because you aren’t doing support.

I’m proud to work somewhere that prides itself on seeing professional support as a career, helping people build that career by supporting them and helping them develop, and giving those people good compensation, good opportunities, and good resources with which they can make the services we provide amazing experiences for the customers who pay for them. We make all employees who don’t work in support do a rotation in support every year, and every new hire regardless of position does front-line support for the first three weeks.

User support and respect for the people who work it is foundational to the culture here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. No matter your industry, I encourage you to consider making it just as important to your company as well.

And yes; we are hiring.

Replying to App Store Reviews

Matt Gemmell:

As developers with a functional centralised software distribution mechanism, we love to complain about capricious reviews by customers. It’s so unfair, we essentially say. And it no doubt is, but at some point, at least one party has to stop being a teenager – and it won’t be our customers.

Crappy reviews aren’t surprising, even if your software is the best thing ever. I always get a mild feeling of unreality when I (regularly) hear a CrapStore-review complaining session, because people haven’t changed.

His analysis of why people write super-critical things for no apparent reason applies not just to iOS reviews, but also to pretty much every software-related customer service situation ever.

Sometimes the best decision is not to give the people who are saying crazy things about you an audience.

Internet translation: don’t feed the trolls.

Well, It’s Not *My* Fault…

This is great: IE6 Is Your Fault

IE6 is still alive because of people who support it by default like the examples above. People who say “Our sites are compatible even with IE6!” and who say “The plugin/script/wiget/whatever is compatible with IE6.”

(via Jane Wells.)