Fortune Cookie

fortune-cookie

It’s impossible to be perfect. And this fortune cookie note I got reminded me that it’s okay. How reassuring is that message? My immediate reaction was “Hey, this is how I want to be for others” in my role as a Happiness Engineer. Then I remembered that since it was my fortune cookie, this was about me. And I realized that the statement is plain old true. It has been true in the past, is true in my present, and odds are high that it will be true in my future. This makes me feel really fortunate. And it makes me think about the importance of helping people in general.

My job, my marriage and my family are all arenas in which I feel particularly blessed. And this fortune philosophy is a main contributor to why my life is so awesome.

Work? WordPress is a seriously powerful program. Every day I help people with networking issues, SEO, site building, writing-sharing, advertising, account changes, etc. I know a lot and do not feel as if I’m not qualified for my job. That said, I sometimes find myself facing situations in which I don’t have an answer. Every day I’m learning more. But I never feel isolated or backed into a corner where I can’t be helpful thanks to my co-workers.

We all have experience in different arenas. If I have a question about analytics or MX records, then a ping to a co-worker will bring someone with experience in those fields to help me (and I help them where I am strong). No judgement from anyone. Just helpful attitudes (and I’m over two years into this job, so I’m not being idealistic. That’s just the beautiful reality of my work environment). Together, we provide answers to those who come to us for help.

I can help because I am helped.

Family? Again, every family member has a strength, and we work together to create good as a unit. I think back especially to the years I was bed-ridden (rough pregnancies and a few surgeries that laid me flat for long periods of time). My in-laws moved in to help us with parenting and household maintenance (as did my friends and members of our church, who provided meals and childcare until my in-laws arrived). We ran a daycare back then, and my husband became licensed so he could cover for me when I was down. My children were young, but they pitched in to help where they could. This made my healing happen faster, and when I was back on my feet, life was manageable, and I didn’t have to deal with the chaos of backlogged tasks.

Again, I could help others (eventually, after I healed) because others helped me.

Marriage? If anyone knows every single weakness I have, it’s my man. But I am very fortunate in the fact that instead of using those weaknesses to knock me down, Chris takes his own strengths to help me grow in those areas if I’m capable. Or to cover for me if I’m not capable. I try to do the same for him.

So there it is. My fortune reminding me of how fortunate I am. I hope I always remember that and reciprocate.

Favorite Chrome Extensions

I love extensions. Not too many of them, but certain ones that make my life so much easier to deal with. I thought I might share some of my favorites with you in case it makes your life easier as well. And I’d love to hear about some of your favorites (please feel free to share in the comments).

So what is a Chrome extension? It’s a small software program that makes my Chrome browser work better. You can install extensions from the Extensions URL. Here are my current favorites:

Library Extension – This might be my absolute favorite. It has saved me hundreds of dollars, I’m sure. I linked my library accounts to the widget. Now, when I look up a book on Amazon, that extension kicks into action and tells me if the book is available at my library. It even links me to the library site so I can download available e-copies.

F.B.(FluffBusting)Purity – This one cleans up and customizes Facebook, letting me filter out the junk I don’t want to see. Goodby negativity and political yuckness!

Google Voice (by Google) – Love using this as a backup phone number, and my messages get transcribed so I can read them there.

Stylus – Custom themes for any website – If I want to change the look of a site I’m viewing (changing font color or whatever), I make the CSS changes here and worry no more.

Adblock Plus – This one is controversial since I know people make money from the ads on their sites. The good thing is that this extension lets you choose which sites you want to see ads on so you can still support your friends 🙂

Honey – This one automatically finds and applies coupon codes when I shop online. To be honest, it doesn’t usually get me a better deal, but when it does work, it’s super nice.

Tab Snooze –  LOVE this one. When I find a web page that I want to spend more time on at a later date, I can click this and set the time and day I want it to show up on. At the appointed time, it opens up that tab.

How about you? What are some of your favorites?

 

Website Design Series

I get to be a college teacher 🙂 Come join Happiness Engineer Sam Hamdy and myself for these two workshops at Jamestown Community College if you happen to be in the area. The address is: 525 Falconer St, Jamestown, NY 14701. You can call 716-376-7506 to reserve a spot.

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What is Ten Minutes?

2010-07-20_Black_windup_alarm_clock_faceThat’s a question that hit me hard about a decade ago. I was a freelance writer, struggling to balance writing time and parenting three young kids. It seemed that whenever I got in a writing flow, I was interrupted. Either that, or I would find I had a few minutes of quiet between events, but felt that wasn’t enough time to get the writing juices flowing.

One day I was clicking through channels and chanced upon a fictional tv show episode about a writer for a late night show (I wish I remembered the name of the show, but I don’t). The writer on the show looked and his watch and said, “I’ve got ten minutes to write!” then he happily scurried out.

What a difference.

My take: I only have ten minutes.

His take: I’ve got ten minutes.

That rocked my world. I started grabbing those ten minutes and had the gratification of seeing my productivity increase exponentially.

I wish I could pass that concept on the the next gen. Don’t sit there waiting for your friends to show up. Get moving! Live the day while it’s bright.

Little things add up to a lot. And it feels really good.

So far the kids don’t appreciate that concept as much as I do, but maybe someday it will sink in. I was in my thirties before it hit me. I’m very thankful for that one line in a single episode of a show I coincidentally watched.

An Email That Changed my Life

IMG_20150109_204843926-MOTIONOne year ago today, I was working night security/gate at the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous when I received an email that changed my life.

It said:

I work on the Happiness team at Automattic and would like to chat
about your recent Happiness Engineer application.

Are you free on Friday, July 25th, 8:30am Eastern time to have a text
chat on Skype?

I had applied months before and by that point had figured it wasn’t my time yet. I’d wait another year and try again. Instead, that email led to an interview, a project, another interview, a trial, and the best job on the planet.

The past year has been a blur, and I’ve learned a ton.

I love how it’s my job to interact with people who use WordPress.

When I work in live chat, I instant message with people who are learning about their sites. When I work on mobile, I get to text to people who use our app. I’m currently working with the Jetpack plugin and learning all sorts of things about network connections, third party plugin integrations and the powerful options we offer people from spam guards to beautiful galleries to math notations.

And then there’s one of my favorite parts of my job. Working in Blogging University.  While I know I’m actually in there to help others, the truth is that I go there for inspiration myself. Each class holds community members who learn together and build friendships. It’s beautiful to be part of this.

I get to travel. I get to meet new people online every day. I now have friends all around the world (as a distributed company we all work from home but interact enough online to become close friends). I get to celebrate the triumphs of WordPress. I learn about struggles people have with WordPress and become part of a solution. People with a thirst for knowledge surround me constantly, and I can set my own hours so I can be with my family.

Who can ask for more? I am truly thankful.

You can read more about my job application process here if you are interested.

Here’s to many more years!

Becoming a Happiness Engineer

It was just about a year ago when my world was completely rocked. In an ironic quirk of fate, I found my dream job in technology while crashing a website. How (not) cool is that?
Background
snowboardingFor almost 20 years I worked from home as a freelance writer, specializing in children’s media. Then a friend who liked my work-from-home lifestyle encouraged me to learn Python and work for his company. That was great for a while, then the job ended.
What was I to do? As I contemplated re-entering the professional writing world, I began volunteering to help at the local ski resort where my family likes to play — Swain Resort. That turned into a full-time job, which I absolutely loved. I loved interacting with people in customer service, playing with the technology, and taking snowboarding breaks. I was able to work with friends, and my kids and husband worked there, too. Life was pretty good.
There were only a few things missing:

  • I really missed having the freedom to set my own schedule. It was particularly difficult when I wanted to visit my aging mother-in-law while keeping up with my kids at home.
  • I missed working with code.
  • I also hated commuting. The bitter-sweet part of working at a ski resort is the best days at the slopes are the worst on the roads. And I’m a really wussy driver, tbh. I admit it.

Then something really cool happened. I crashed the ski slope’s website. 
Changes
Not gonna lie, it didn’t seem cool at the time. I was in a complete panic as I called up a past consultant for help. He fixed it (I have since come to learn, thanks to some tips at a WordCamp, that I had an extra space in the PHP of a plugin I was editing, and that’s what crashed the site). The incident prompted me to immediately purchase VaultPress.
I hit the site a few times when in the purchasing process. An ad popped up asking if I wanted to be a Happiness Engineer. That title was completely intriguing to me. I thought it was something Disney, and since I’m all about Disney, I clicked it.
What I saw stopped me in my tracks.
I have an eclectic background. I have a degree in elementary education, I ran a licensed Head Start home daycare, I wrote, I coded, I performed unit and integration tests in Python for a business, I worked customer service in a ski resort, I volunteered at a local library–teaching people to use electronic devices… and these all wrapped up in one beautiful package that made me the perfect candidate for the Happiness Engineer position that Automattic was offering. It was better than Disney! I printed the job description to dream about.
I knew it was my dream job, but I felt hesitant to apply. What if I didn’t make it? What if I didn’t know enough about WordPress? Again, just like driving on snowy roads, the wuss side of me came out. I showed the paper to family and friends and said “This is my dream job!” But I didn’t apply…until I saw Darnell’s write-up about his experiences.
It’s okay to apply and fail. The company doesn’t give up on you. That’s what I learned. So it wouldn’t hurt to apply. It wasn’t a one-shot deal. A dream is worth working for, and this was my dream. So I applied at the end of April 2014.
And I didn’t hear back for weeks. I sent a follow-up note near the end of May. And still didn’t hear back. It was okay since I loved my ski resort job. And now I knew I could re-apply regularly. My plan was to keep active in the forums and try again.
In July, while I was working security at the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous in a remote part of PA (can you say limited Internet?) I was invited to an interview.
My Dreams Take Shape
After working security all night, I drove into a nearby town to conduct my interview using McDonald’s wi-fi. It went well, and after another interview and a project I began my trial.
That trial was really tough. And that’s an understatement. I only made it through thanks to the support of amazing family and friends. I knew the process of learning would be difficult, but I didn’t brace myself for the emotional impact of it all. The more I interacted with other Automattic workers, and the more I worked with people who wanted my help, the more I fell in love with the position. I was terrified I would be cut off. Even if I had a chance to start again.
One of the biggest lessons I learned in my trial was to pace myself and not over-work. The goal of being a good employee for Automattic is quality over quantity. Unlike the last coding job suggested to me (90 hrs a week), this work environment evaluated me on how I cared for myself and my family and friends while providing help for others at work. It’s all an important balance, and one I now value deeply.

I Made It!

DCIM202GOPROThe dream job. Now mine. Four months later, it’s still kind of a shock. Since my hiring I have been to Utah for a Grand Meetup of all Automattic employees (where I got to go sky-diving as a team bonding experience), I have been to Barcelona to meet my team, been to Saratoga Springs, NY and to Toronto for WordCamps, and I have gotten to meet amazing people from all around the world who are getting their voices heard through WordPress.
I am on the live chat team, so I get to interact with people every day! And I also get to test for bugs in our new app releases, and I get to work with people from all over the world. My office is in my home, and I can visit my mother-in-law whenever I want. Life is so amazingly good.
Automattic understands that happy workers provide quality service. My home is happy, and my work is solid. I look forward to getting up every day to meet more awesome people online and help them solve some issues.
If you love people, code, helping others, or just want to be part of the WordPress team, check out our job openings. We are hiring 🙂

Jeff Meltzer – Ergonomic Office Equipment Consultant

Jeff Meltzer

Jeff MeltzerImagine you could prevent a surgery by changing an office. Imagine you could reduce waste and trim a budget in the same manner. Imagine you can reduce–even eliminate pain and increase a worker’s productivity just by making them more comfortable.

This imaginative world is Jeff Meltzer’s reality. As president of Applied Ergonomics, Meltzer consults with people, helping them set up a unique, ergonomic office fitted to their specific needs.

I was so blown away by the changes my office setup made in my own physiology and work productivity that I asked Meltzer for an interview so he could share some tips and tricks with us all. He graciously agreed.

CP: Can you offer an anecdote about someone whose life was changed after getting a proper office setup?

JM: Over the years I have been able to help a large number of people. Certainly one of the most dramatic impacts was for a man that worked at a law firm and was scheduled for double carpal tunnel surgery and we kept him from needing to go through with it.

CP: What’s one of the most common mistakes you find when consulting with people in regards to ergonomics?

JM: The most common mistake I see being made is that people are assigned a workstation that has already been set up by the previous occupant and they don’t even think about whether it will work well for them. And so they work for months or even years without being comfortable.

Ergonomics is very often just about asking the right questions and paying attention to your own body. It’s about self-awareness and making the connection between your immediate work environment and the strains on your body.

CP: What would you recommend for people who are building up the perfect office on a limited budget? 

JM: Good ergonomics on a limited budget can be a challenge. Cheap seating is usually a mistake in every way. It doesn’t give good support generally and the life expectancy of a cheap chair is a year or two while that of a quality chair is 7 to 12 years. So it turns out to be a better value and a better product that directly impacts your health, not to mention better for the environment, to reach for a higher quality chair.

When choosing a desk, it’s best to avoid a desk with a pencil drawer or apron because they can impact your shoulder posture. If you already have an office setup and are living with chronic pain, pay attention to those postures and movements that make it worse and then figure out what product you are interacting with that impacts this. A piecemeal approach to ergonomics can still be very beneficial if it is targeted correctly.

CP: Which piece of office equipment (in your opinion) is most worthy of investing in initially when someone is on a limited budget?

JM: I’m not sure that there is one universal item above others. One that we don’t even sell but is critical is a headset for those who are on the phone and computing as trying to cradle the handset with your head is really bad for your neck.

Basically, I look for aspects of the work or workstation that create tendencies toward reaching, twisting and slouching and try to mitigate them. One of the best tools for this is to replace the mouse with either a RollerMouse or Mousetrapper, which moves the cursor control to in front of the keyboard. This alone cuts down on most of the awkward reaching that is associated with computing.

Some of the other less considered but still important tools to consider are footrests for those working at a standard desk and are not tall enough to easily reach the surface, keyboard trays for the same purpose but also more generally to allow one to work essentially in their lap, document holders, monitor arms and task lights. Of course, sit/stand desks which have finally gone more mainstream in the US, can be a tremendous benefit.

CP: What would be your dream office setup for your clients if price were not a factor?

JM: A dream office is quite a question. I suppose it depends on what your job is, how many different tasks one does. If you are solely interacting with the computer all day, then I would want the freedom to work at a Focal Upright Sphere part of the time and a sit/stand desk with a Hag Capisco or the new Aeris 3D chair. Of course I would have a monitor array. And being an aesthete, it has to be beautiful.

Tips and Thoughts

I want to reiterate that becoming attuned to making the connection between how your body feels and the environment you are interacting with really is key.

First, you want to notice how you are sitting. Are you slouched, leaning over your desk, reclined or comfortably upright? You may need a new chair.

Are you reaching for the mouse or keyboard, with your arms extended or are your elbows comfortably at your side with your forearms gently forward and perhaps sloped a little downward? You may benefit from a keyboard tray with a mouse surface that is adjustable and can come up over the keyboard, or perhaps a RollerMouse or Mousetrapper.

Are your feet supported on the floor? Do you feel pressure on the underside of your thighs extending close to your knees? You may benefit from a footrest, which is good for your circulation as well as your lower back.

Are you getting sore legs and ankles from standing? You may benefit from a standing support mat.

Are you straining to read the screen? You may benefit from a larger monitor, or a monitor arm that can safely bring the screen closer.

Do you feel pressure in your forearm or wrist when you bend you wrist in any direction? Depending on which types of bends or rotation bother you, you may benefit from a pronated mouse or a split keyboard.

How Meltzer Became an Ergonomic Specialist – in His Own Words

I have always been ahead of my times, and my current occupation is another example of that. I began studying nutrition and ecology, and doing yoga and meditation, in high school and college in the 1970’s. I graduated from the University of Michigan with a major in Business, planning on going into my family’s retail business. After college though, I decided not to do this and had a variety of careers before I started this company, Applied Ergonomics.

My innate talents tend toward design and marketing, as well as finance, and after college I became a Market Maker on the CBOE (Chicago Board of Options Exchange) relatively early in its existence. I stayed there for five years, after which I went into residential rehabbing but had bad timing as interest rates were prohibitively high. Soon thereafter, I joined a company that was pioneering ergonomics and stayed with them for five years. Again, I was way ahead of the trend, and was able to interact with and learn from the real pioneers of the industry, both medical doctors and ergonomists.

I chose to open my own company but wanted to expand into the furniture business instead of being narrowly focused on ergonomics. I aligned with a forward thinking manufacturer and had pretty instant success. The contract furniture business has been a great fit for me because it calls on all my talents and interests from design to construction, from understanding client’s business work flow and culture to using my business education in running my own company.

Having the grounding that I do in ergonomics allows us to design better spaces for clients when working on large projects. I have continued to do individual ergonomics consulting throughout the last 25 years because it is incredibly gratifying to make a direct contribution to the quality of my clients’ lives. What sets my consulting apart from that of an OT (Occupational Therapist) is that I use specific products prescriptively as I know product intimately so I am able to recommend specific items to accomplish the result I want for the individual. I am also vendor agnostic and pull from manufacturers across the industry.

Follow Up

Thank you, Jeff Meltzer, for taking the time to answer these questions. I am very thankful to you and to Automattic, Inc. for my incredible office setup. I look forward to many years of pain-free work in this lovely, ergonomic environment.