Fatigue: Emotional and Intellectual

I know not everyone follows my LinkedIn profile with rapt attention. That’s OK – I don’t follow your LinkedIn profile very closely, either.

So, you might not know; I’ve moved into a different-but-not-so-different role at Automattic (the folks behind WordPress.com, Woo Commerce, Jetpack, and a heap of other great stuff)

I was previously leading a support team, and have since moved into a role that we call a Data Analyst, on the Marketing team.

If you’re familiar at all with Automattic’s naming policies, both for jobs and teams, yes, this is an outlier in the direction of the mundane in both cases. I went from being a Happiness Engineer on Team Athens (and also technically on Team Redwood) to being a Data Analyst on Customer Activation.

100% consistent with Automattic standard, though, are the many and varied hats that come with this role: at other companies my day to day work could be described as Marketing, Growth Engineering, SEO, SEM, Pay Per Click, Customer Success, Data Science, even a little bit of database architecture. It’s a lot!

(As a sidebar, I think the job duties and title change may make it seem like I’m making a career change or otherwise sort of changing direction – let me assure you, my focus continues to be on building explosive value for our customers. I’m expanding my tool set – not changing my approach.)

Today, was a cognitively demanding day. Working remotely means taking on a lot of responsibility for structure and organization of one’s work – I’m still figuring out how to do that the best way I can, in this new role. It also means being disciplined to push back distractions which are constantly at the ready in any browser window.

Spending hours looking at databases, considering queries, performance, outputs, accuracy – this is work, it’s real work, and it builds fatigue. A day of work, focused, attentive work, can certainly leave me in need of a deep breath and a long walk.

(I personally find it especially hard to think critically and well about SQL, statistics, databases, and so forth, near the end of my work day. It’s like I’m running out of gas.)

What struck me today was how different this kind of fatigue feels, especially compared to the kind of fatigue I’d feel after a tough day leading a team of Happiness Engineers. I’ve reduced them into two distinct types for the title – Emotional and Intellectual – but I’m sure there is some overlap, maybe some days more than others.

Maybe the difference is, in the lead role, the fatigue comes from trying to serve others, trying to hold them and their full personhood in your mind, whereas in this analyst role the fatigue comes from the intensely individual and personal kind of focus it takes to do it well, to take it seriously.

It does feel different to say to my wife, “I had a hard day – I couldn’t get the data types to reconcile the way I wanted,” rather than “I had a hard day – I think I really let some people down.”

Maybe they’re not different. Maybe I’m different.




Getting Better at Saying No

A brief aside: I haven’t written a post in a while. Sorry about that! Things have been busy, and I have a lot that I want to share. I’ve gotten a new job, still at Automattic, a little role switch inside the company, but it required I go through the the same Trial process as an outside hire – it was hard! I’ve been working to help organize a new conference supporting a new theory of customer support. I’ve also survived eight months of having two kids under three!

Back in September, when my son was born, I decided to stop doing Trellis to Table. Trellis to Table was a podcast that I created – it was an interview podcast, where I’d bring on hop farmers, grain farmers, small brewers, agricultural educators and scientists. The Big Idea was to help unlock the value that was trapped in small brewing and farming communities around the US, and distribute that value, for free, to other brewers and farmers.

It was a hard decision! I had my process down – the half hour interviews probably took about an hour of my time each week, between scheduling interviews, doing interviews, and going through audio production.

Trellis to Table was a success; it was fun to do, I was learning a lot, it was producing pretty consistent download numbers given its immense niche status, and it was profitable by its second quarter.

At the end of the day, the biggest thing I learned was that I don’t want to be a hop farmer – that was the Big Question that kicked off the whole endeavor, after all. When my wife’s father passed, he left us his one-time organic potato farm in Upstate New York, and the question of what to do with it was a big question for us.

It turns out that hops have a real history in New York State. So, I figured that, being a researcher and a true talk-to-thinker, I should call up some farmers and get a sense of what it takes to grow hops. Given that the year was 2015, and my annual mantra was “Create Selfless Value in the Universe,” I figured it would be relatively trivial to go ahead and record those calls, and publish them in the podcast format, and I could create some value for someone else.

I was right about the value. I was wrong about it being trivial!

I released the first episode in September 2015, and stopped releasing new episodes in September 2016 – 52 episodes, one full calendar year, felt like it was the right amount of time.

I decided to stop doing the podcast because I needed to start taking stock, to start taking my professional life a little more seriously; hop farming, craft brewers, these were things I was deeply interested in (and still am!) – but the time and mindspace that the podcast was occupying, especially as my cognitive landscape narrowed with the challenges of two kids, was too valuable for work that wasn’t helping me move forward in other ways.

I am so grateful for the experience; learning the ins and outs of podcasting and interviewing was such a growth experience for me, and I appreciate what goes into a good beer more now than ever before (especially a locally grown beer!) – but my professional and personal future doesn’t lie in agriculture, at least not as far as I can tell at the moment.

Saying no to something that’s not fun, or obviously a bad choice, that’s the easy part. Saying no to something that is an interesting and fulfilling use of time, to pursue other interests or more professional goals – that’s harder. Or, at least it was much harder for me. I think that maybe 2017 will be the year that I learn to say no, better.

I’m not sure what better means exactly – does it mean faster? Does it mean recognizing when I should say no? Does it mean being more aggressive and certain in turning things down that aren’t a perfect fit?

The post script to this story is this: in January 2017, four months after the last Trellis to Table episode went live, I was invited to Liverpool NY to accept the New York State Agricultural Society’s 2016 award for excellence in journalism for the podcast.

Life is weird, my friends.


It’s Good that Data is Man Made

There’s a post from the folks at Highrise that’s been going around Customer Support and Success circles over the last couple of weeks: Data is Man Made, from Chris Gallo.

As someone who writes and speaks about customer support and leveraging data to do customer support better, I’ve had this article dropped to me in at least two Slack channels. Folks get a sense of mirth, I suspect, from needling me with articles and arguments that run contrary to the sorts of things I write about, and try to be persuasive around.

Yes; I will admit that I found this piece hard to swallow at first blush. Opening with…

Here’s a secret from the support team at Highrise. Customer support metrics make us feel icky.

… is a guaranteed burr in my side. Arguing against measurement from emotional premises?

Continue reading “It’s Good that Data is Man Made”

A Civilian at World of Watson Part Three: Philosophy

Back in October I was invited by IBM to attend their World of Watson event in Las Vegas – I wrote a little about it at the time.

Now that I have had some time following the event, I’ve been able to percolate and put my thoughts to paper, as it were. In the interest of you, dear reader, I’ve split these thoughts into three different posts; Technology, Business and Philosophy.

This post is the third and final, talking a little bit about Philosophy. You can find my first post, discussing the Technology and my experience of it, here. The second post, discussing the Business of IBM and the conference, here.

Continue reading “A Civilian at World of Watson Part Three: Philosophy”

A Civilian at World of Watson Part Two: Business

Back in October I was invited by IBM to attend their World of Watson event in Las Vegas – I wrote a little about it at the time.

Now that I have had some time following the event, I’ve been able to percolate and put my thoughts to paper, as it were. In the interest of you, dear reader, I’m splitting these thoughts into three different posts; Technology, Business and Philosophy. Note that there are no bright lines here: I’m sure to touch on each of the three topics in all three posts.

(I predict #1 and #2 will far outshine #3 in terms of traffic – such is life, friends!)

This post is the second, talking a little bit about Business. You can find my first post, discussing the Technology and my experience of it, here.
Continue reading “A Civilian at World of Watson Part Two: Business”