Ever wondered what it’s like to work at Automattic? Well, I’m part of a team that provides support to WordPress VIP clients. My role is as a Support Engineer, although this has been known as a “VIP Wrangler” and “Enterprise Happiness Engineer” in the past.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for me.
My alarm goes off. Well, ‘goes off’ isn’t quite right. It’s one of those modern clocks that slowly simulates daylight and then wakes you up through the sound of bird-song. It’s a better way to start the morning. Thankfully, I’m good at getting up and are straight up and ready (albeit, often not quite awake yet). I pull on an old t-shirt (I often use free ‘swag’ t-shirts that I’ve picked up from WordCamps) and loose-fitting trousers (joggers, normally)
But why so early? My wife gets up at this time, so it makes sense. It also means I’m awake and ready at 7am, when my daughter wakes, to help wrestle her ready for school.
I head down stairs, feed the cats and then myself – breakfast cereal and a strong cup of tea kick me off nicely.
This is when I head into my office. The smallest bedroom of the house has been converted to a home-office.
I sign into Slack and have a quick check of Zendesk – this is the ticket system we use with our VIP clients – to ensure there are no tickets nearing their SLA time. If so, I grab them but, most of the time, I don’t need to.
I’m often the first EU-based support person around, which works out well, allowing me to look at tickets earlier than, in the past, they may have been. When I first started in the role, we didn’t have anybody outside of the EU/US timezones but we now have people in both Australia and India who are part-way through their day at the time I start.
I spend around 30 minutes catching up on the previous day. Automattic uses P2 blogs (although technically it’s O2 we use, we still refer to them as P2s) for communication, along with Slack. The latter is the more immediate ‘chat’ and P2s for the less-immediate, particularly bulky, communication. I track certain P2s and read up on anything that’s been posted to those. I also check emails (we still use email at Automattic but, barely, so I only check it once a day), the team calendar and other things.
During this time I may also be called upon by my wife to wrangle an unruly child.
My wife heads off to work, dropping off our daughter just down the road at the child-minders.
Now I’m up-to-date with what’s been going on, I head back to Zendesk. Each week I will be doing 1 of 2 roles – triage or support.
Triage involves picking up tickets from clients and, basically, dealing with them as much as you can – either resolving them yourself (which is the case in most situations) or passing them to another VIP team (Development, usually). We use Slack to communicate with our colleagues, so can often enlist their help to assist with resolving the tickets. Clients have SLAs in place, which we need to ensure we answer within, but more often than not we will respond well within these times.
When doing the Support role, we’re responsible for looking at the backlog of unresolved tickets and trying to close, or update, as many of these as possible.
A quick trip across the landing to the bathroom, I clean my teeth before heading downstairs to grab a coffee. This is usually the only coffee I’ll have during the day – I’m not a big coffee drinker but, for some reason, I need one after cleaning my teeth (I think I can accept coffee on top of toothpaste better than I can tea).
It’s time to stretch my legs and go for a walk for about half an hour. I live close to a canal, so will usually walk along that – canal boats are abundant and the owners are friendly. If I get no other interaction during the working day, I do at least get some here. And passing dog walkers too. Here are a few pictures I’ve taken whilst out…
I can be spotted from my use of a grey hoodie and a pair of Apple AirPods (I like to listen to podcasts whilst I’m out).
I head to the shower. Finally. It makes sense to do this AFTER a potentially warm walk (and even if it’s cold outside you tend to wrap up warm and sweat anyway). I then dress in jeans and a slightly less scruffy t-shirt.
Lunch! I make myself a salad each day. As well as the usual salad items it will also include a random Quorn product (to at least convince my brain that I’m eating meat, even when I’m not). A cup of tea finishes it off.
The timing of lunch may and will vary but I spend the time downstairs, away from work for a while.
I’m back working.
Many people would wonder if it gets lonely, working like this. But don’t forget I’m constantly talking to colleagues on Slack and regular video calls (see later) gives me face-to-face contact with them. We also have regular meetups – support meetup once a year and so does the whole of VIP too.
For me, loneliness is not an issue but other people’s milage may vary – it’s really what you make of it. A job at Automattic allows you to work anywhere you want, so you can always work in a local park, a coffee shop, or anywhere else you can think of (and get WiFi). The fact that I choose to sit in a home office is my preference and works fine for me. Having just spent 28 years working in a traditional company office, it’s a nice transition, and I don’t mind my own company – having spent my teenage years, locked in my bedroom writing code on a Commodore 64.
When there’s been good weather I’ve often sat outside with my laptop – I get no extra contact but being outside is a change and, if you worked in a traditional office, is already more than you could do there.
Every 2 weeks I have a 1:1 with my team lead. This lasts, usually at most, half an hour. We use Zoom for this.
Indeed, we have a few Zoom meetings during the week – often around the latter part of my afternoon, as it intersects with the beginning of the Pacific start-of-day too, ensuring as many people as possible can join. There’s a monthly all-VIP call with our CEO, but also regular all-Support meetings, all-Triage meetings and, then, sub-divisions of triage (as we’re split by timezone).
I log off soon after my wife and daughter comes home from school.
We all sit around the kitchen table and have our evening meal together.
Our daughter goes to bed and peace falls once again. As much as I want to get things done at this stage of the evening, it normally consists of drinking more tea and watching TV. Some nights, I’ll spend in the company of my PlayStation 4, often gaming until after 11pm.
Right now, Triage doesn’t have a formal all-weekend level of support, as most clients aren’t around. However, we do maintain on-call support for anything urgent. However, as more and more Enterprise clients are coming on-board, with SLAs that include the weekends, this is changing. At the moment, we do have a “Saturday sweeper” role, which is essentially to catch any tickets that appear early Saturday but this is already extending into Sunday as well. Needless to say, we’re discussing introducing a more formal weekend coverage – having said that, right now, we’re maintaining a near 100% SLA.
Personally, whether I’m due to or not, I’ll often drop into the queue over the weekend and grab some tickets to sort. This includes evenings during the week too. I enjoy my job and the instant access of just opening a laptop and being able to access my work means that I’m more than happy to do so.
And that’s the average day in my life on WordPress VIP! Of course, an average means that it’s not always like this. Some may think my days look long but I take regular breaks, often just ‘pottering’ around the house, getting jobs done. I may go out to the shops, or even take a few hours off to go to the cinema – that’s what the flexibility of this job gives.
Out and about
As part of the role, there are lots of opportunities to attend WordCamps and similar. The map below gives you an idea of what I’ve been up to just in the last 11 months. Click on any for further details, including photos and diaries that I’ve written.
Find out more
📄 A Day in the Life of a VIP Support Engineer (Allie Mims)
Also check out the Twitter hashtag #a8cday for more Automattic stories.
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