Meet a Happiness Engineer: James Homuth

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a Happiness Engineer? Can you really turn customer support into a career?

We interviewed James Homuth, a Happiness Engineer based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) who has been at Automattic for less than a year to find out more about his experience.

Q:  You’ve been really active on internal P2s and Slack. I feel like you’ve been at Automattic much longer than a year! What’s it like being a Newmattician contributing to the conversations here?

I like getting things done, and I feel like Automattic is the first job that actually lets me get things done from day one. I mean, I hadn’t even finished my trial yet and I was updating the company Field Guide because I happened across a page that needed clarification. I’m used to that needing to go through an entire process first.

Q: Do you recall when you first heard about the Happiness Engineer job, and then what inspired you to apply?

I’m a long-time Jetpack user on self-hosted sites, so while I have rarely needed to contact a Happiness Engineer, I’ve always appreciated that they were there.

I’ve done technical support before, but for computer software and hardware, not a web platform. But I’ve always wanted to find a way to give back to the broader community, so when I saw the posting come up on Flexjobs I figured I may as well give it a shot. Worst Automattic could say was “no”, and they didn’t.

Q: I’m glad you gave it a shot! Now that you are past the trial period, and onboarding, is there something about the job that surprised you?

Two big things jumped out at me immediately. I touched on one earlier (the flexibility and permissiveness when it comes to getting things done), but also the degree of flexibility that’s available in a workday. You’re not locked into doing a specific thing–you may be hired on as a Happiness Engineer, but if you have Jetpack skills and the Jetpack crew needs help, they won’t stop you from jumping in. But it’s more than that. I do X things right now, but in a month I may have switched to doing Y things if it turns out doing Y things would be better for both me and the company. That’s, I think, more of a culture shock than working remotely–at least in 2021.

Q: If you give your past self advice about being a Happiness Engineer, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to grab onto an idea and run with it. Sure, the idea may blow up in your face. But that’s how experiments work. Your team or other Automatticians will be your support if it goes sideways, and if it takes off–you may have just set a new standard process for your team, guild, division, or company. either way you learned something, and no matter the outcome, learning something is never a bad thing.

Q:  That’s great! You have to be open to learning. And sometimes learning by doing is the best way to learn. What’s one thing you’re learning now, and why is it important?

I’m taking a deep dive into all things FSE. I’d originally planned to start on CSS, and I may still do that, but full site editing was only being talked about when I started. With the new WordPress 5.9, FSE is going to be where it’s at. And, with more users being transitioned to it over the next few months, the absolute best thing I can do for them–and for me as a WordPress user–is to be all over that.

Q:  What is the work culture like at Automattic? Can you really have that sense of being part of a team when everyone is working in different places?

Absolutely. It takes 3 hardcore must-do things – communication, communication, and communication. Part of that is building a team culture within the broader Automattic culture. My team has only existed for a few months (it was created about a month after I joined), so we’re still building that team culture.

But just to give you an example, every morning in our team channel there’s a string of good mornings/hellos/how are things type conversations happening. We pay attention to things. When something good happens in our personal lives, we celebrate that. When something good happens in our professional lives, we celebrate that.

Bonus: All the emojis in the world aren’t always a bad thing. My team is mostly made up of Canadians (that’s just how it happened), so we’re officially recognized as team Maple. Naturally, we have all of the emojis to go with it.

Q:  What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a customer? Or is there a particular customer experience you’ve had recently that has made you smile?

My absolute favorite customer complement actually occurred during my trial. I was in live chat with a customer who was absolutely not comfortable designing anything WordPress on her own but was more than happy to do it if she knew she had someone there in case it went sideways. She was trying to add the option to allow people to follow her blog, but her theme wasn’t cooperating with it. I found an alternate method that was usually meant for self-hosted sites to use instead. So I told her, “We don’t usually use this feature like this, but for your purposes, we’re going to make it fit.” And all she said was, “Okay, I trust you”.

Q:  What is your one piece of advice for someone who wants to be an HE?

Get comfortable with WordPress, and I mean really understand how WordPress works, brush up–or develop–your skills with CSS, and spend time in the forums. But most importantly, close your eyes, hold your breath, and jump in.

There’s an old hockey expression: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” It’s true. If you tell yourself you won’t get in, and therefore you don’t apply, it’s a self-fulfilling prediction. Or, you can just apply.

And never, ever, ever stop learning.

Interested in becoming a Happiness Engineer at Automattic? Visit the Work with Us page to learn more about how you can express your interest!

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