Tag: education

Getting Started with SQL

Startup Stock Photo

If you’re interested in data, you’re going to have to learn to interact with data one way or another – there are an awful lot of tools out there, and many are optimized for certain professions or fields. The Doctor uses SPSS for her analysis, but she’s an academic psychologist – not a super useful tool for folks interested in growth. For me, working at WordPress.com, SQL seemed like a great place to start, since many of the WordPress foundations are built on plain old SQL tables.

There are lots of places where folks will be very glad to take your money to teach you SQL (or anything else, for that matter) – in matters of education, I would encourage you to examine your options, and to at least get a taste of the no-cost options. With the Internet as it is, there is such a wealth of information and generosity of spirit, a dedicated and motivated learner can often find themselves with more than enough educational resources at their fingertips.

For me, I started with Khan Academy’s Hour of Code on SQL – available here – KA really does a great job, and the subjects they cover are growing every day. Once you’ve spent an hour with them, if you’re following my footsteps anyway, you’d want to move on to SQL Zoo, a wiki-style educational series of problems and a number of different databases to play with.

After SQL Zoo, I’m not sure! Are there other resources that you would recommend for a data-driven autodidact?

Five Things I Learned About Live Chat


This last weekend I made the move from our Akismet support team over to Team Hermes, a group of Happiness Engineers who cover live chat (that is, text-based chat support) for our regular paid users (That is, neither VIP nor Business), as well as covering in-app mobile support.

So, I spent my full work day yesterday deep in the live chat mines. Over a work day, I did 45 chats – not terrible for a first day! With only a single day of experience under my belt, here are a few early-stage insights on live chat as a medium of hospitality:

    1. Live Chat is very good at what it is very good at. Live Chat is, so far, good at two things: behaving like a human-powered search bar, answering questions with documentation or blog post recommendations, and debugging complicated problems with multi-step questioning. The trouble is when an operator has multiple chats that cover both flavors.


    1. Live Chat requires a different sort of focus than email or forum replies. Replying to an email allows a Happiness Engineer some space to explore and investigate and ensure that the reply is 100% correct as-is, a neatly-tied package that is ready to go. In Chat, there is a lot of uncertainty, and the need to balance multiple chat customers at once means you must be able to not only laser-focus on a single customer, you have to be able to switch between cases quickly with little time for recall.


    1. Live Chat requires a different mindset than email replies. Given the short time span between responses, there is no wall of authority in place: if an HE doesn’t know an answer, they have to admit it and then move forward with collaboration, a back-and-forth between the HE and the customer. In an email response, the HE would have time to research and be certain of their authority before replying. I like this ejection of ego from the equation; Live Chat feels much more “Let’s figure this out!” to email’s “Here is a solution.”


    1. Live Chat is not ideal for every problem: there were a few cases where I had to ask folks to seek support through other channels. These cases were big browser problems, where we needed full traceroutes to determine the underlying issue, and broad CSS customization, which, while something I _can_ do, would not be to the benefit of the rest of the folks waiting in the Live Chat line. Plus, our CSS Support Forum folks are so darn helpful!


    1. Live Chat would be a great tool for proactive, rather than reactive, support. I know that some companies use Chat on their sites as a sales lead generation tool – I think that in the pursuit of hospitality, offering Live Chat in an educational format would be a really outstanding application. Identify members of your team who are especially patient and tend to excel with new customers, and then create a Chat property specifically for the educational area of your site. Having a live human to work with might really change the onboarding process, and would at the very least help to illustrate where folks are getting caught up. In that way, educational Live Chat would serve both our user-facing hospitality needs as well as our hospitality-driven UX improvements by acting as chat-based user testing.


Today’s my second day – we’ll see how long the above remains true!

Bob Horan of Schodack Central

Last night at Startup Tech Valley, there were a number of presentations – notably the openers, Dumbstruck, a new media sharing app developed by a pair of Philosophy (!) professors at Albany that met with much interest at South by Southwest this year.

The presentation that really stuck with me was that by Mr. Robert Horan – he’s the superintendent of the Schodack Central School District, south of Albany, NY. There isn’t much media out there about him and what he’s doing with his schools, but here’s a little article from the schools themselves.

The short version is this: as his district’s population is falling, the number of students are shrinking, leaving school space underutilized or unused altogether. Rather than letting this space go stagnant or start demolishing buildings, Bob has opened this space up to local startups. The idea is that cross-pollinating the growing tech scene with educators and educational communities will benefit both. It’s an exciting idea, and one that might help many startups take the leap from garage or basement into a proper office setup. Bob’s goal is to exceed 8000 sq feet of available space by this time next year – which is ambitious!

I approached him after the talks, and he was gregarious and excited to discuss it – his district has some really interesting progressive policies, such as ensuring that every graduate is familiar with and able to use the full Google suite of tools, from Gmail to Google Drive, as well as requiring that every graduating senior have taken at least one class online. When I asked if he thought WordPress.com might have a place in the classroom, Bob was very excited – I hope to make the trip down to discuss a partnership soon!

Also, best of all, Bob agreed to come on the podcast. Awesome.

BGA Webinars: The Future?

I had the great opportunity to lead a Webinar with Cuvee Coffee’s Lorenzo Perkins this last Friday evening. It was an official session of the BGA Level One classwork CP 103: Customer Service. I’ve been involved in a few web-based educational projects before, but this was the first time I’d actually lead a class in a full-online environment.

The BGA makes use of the GoToTraining software, which has many applications to different fields and types of education – for our purposes, it served us well, though if I were to make this a regular thing, I’d have to invest in a headset. Using my phone was a bit awkward and cumbersome, especially when simultaneously trying to interact with the class or utilize the UI.

Making use of online educational tools is key for the future of an organization like the BGA – at the moment, the BGA is reliant on highly skilled educators being present at industry events across the country (and sometimes globe). If the BGA Certification program is to grow and flourish as the membership grows, this system will become increasing unsustainable, requiring full-time traveling trainers, as well as straining the resources and patience of students, given the relative infrequency of classwork in their particular region.

Moving forward with the Webinar format is a feather in the BGA’s cap: while many of the class offerings are very hands-on, and would not lend themselves well to online education (any preparation classes, cupping, etc), recognizing that CP 103 is a great candidate for the Webinar format allows the BGA to reach out and engage with students who they may have otherwise lost in the spans of time between Expos and Barista Camps.

From the point of view of the educator, I really enjoyed the Webinar format: it allowed me to contribute to a community that I care about, to speak at length about a topic that is close to my heart, and I didn’t have to fly to Seattle. It was a low-cost way for me to make a meaningful impact.

The sooner we are able to move our appropriate educational formatting to the Webinar format, the sooner we will be able to handle membership growth and demand for education in a sustainable way. Introduction to Espresso will probably never be an online class – but Seed to Cup could be, as well as Efficiency & Workflow, and even Preventative Maintenance, with some creative use of videography.

Good on the BGA for choosing an educational path that will work to grow with the membership, as well as reward the educational volunteers.