Our Team Voyager Engineers live with one foot in the present and the other firmly planted in the future, analyzing how customers use Jetpack today so we can make an even more powerful product tomorrow. Some companies might call this job “New Product Development” but to us, that seems like an underwhelming description of what they do. They’re voyaging into the future (at jet speeds, of course!) to give our users what they want before they even know they want it.
Introducing Echo, a born and bred New Yorker and Voyager Engineer at Jetpack.
Q. What does it mean to be a Voyager Engineer?
It means your job is to boldly go where no one has gone before. In other words, to create new features that expand Jetpack’s frontiers.
Q. That sounds fun.
It is fun! I really like Jetpack as a piece of software and the job is all about expanding on that. Sure, it’s writing code, but it’s also giving input on where the product is going.
Q. How are decisions made about which new products and features to develop?
We learn from how users interact with our products, we talk to the Happiness Engineers who are working with customers all day long, and we have folks who do case studies. WordPress has millions of users, so we get a very big data set that shows us how people interact with it.
We have robust internal discussions and debate the best course forward. I like weighing in — I have strong opinions. Anyone who has thoughts about the way things work is encouraged to voice them; we don’t have any kind of intense hierarchy at Automattic. We discuss, we come to a consensus, and we update the product roadmap.
Q. How did you end up in the tech world?
I kind of ended up here by accident. I went to school for graphic design, but I started programming at a pretty young age, creating video games and things like that. I graduated in the Great Recession of 2009 and ended up in minor IT tech support jobs. Eventually, I applied to an agency for a graphic design job, and when they saw I had experience in Flash development (which was big back then) it took a turn:
They said, “You’re hired!”
And I was like, “Cool!”
And they were like, “As a web developer!”
And I was like, “Oh.”
I went into it because I needed a job and, as it turned out, I’m a pretty talented developer.
Q. How did your career progress after that?
I ended up as the lead engineer at USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Then I worked for an agency for two and a half years. We had amazing clients like Microsoft, Google, GitHub, and the Washington Post. At the end of the day, though, I really wanted to help real people in my community instead of huge corporations.
I think it’s important not to neglect volunteer organizations on shoestring budgets. Personally, I’m involved in LGBTQ rights. I’m transgender and a lesbian, so those causes hit very close to home.
I volunteered at a lot of events and managed blogs for a number of LGBTQ organizations in the city. I became the go-to person when someone needed website help and I’d say, “Okay, I got you.”
Q. How did you land on Jetpack’s Voyager team?
I applied at Automattic because of their great reputation. I really like to see organizations that treat people well and encourage community involvement.
When I was accepted, the hiring team at Jetpack was a good fit. They mentioned they were restructuring and needed some folks for a product-oriented team and I was like, “Me!” I had been using Jetpack for years and knew it was a great offering with good pricing and free features.
Q. What’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do?
Everyone who starts at Jetpack spends the first two weeks on a support rotation. They want you to know the product deeply and helping real customers solve problems is a fantastic way to do that.
I think this says a lot about the culture. I’ve had jobs at very big organizations, but this was the first time a company approached their employee product knowledge and customer service this way. I find that really cool, impressive, and different.
Q. What’s currently keeping you busy?
Backups. The new backup product is major. It’s a single product offering for competitively-priced backups and it’s going well. We’re on the verge of a big marketing push to show the value to our users.
Q. Some people are intimidated by the number of features Jetpack offers. What would you say to that?
I see Jetpack as a kitchen sink with lots of bits and bobs. The best way to handle that as an end-user is to go through everything and activate what looks the most interesting. Basically, tinker around and go for it.
It has a lot of stuff, yeah, but that also means it offers a lot of features that are useful to lots of different types of users. And since Jetpack was founded by the original developers of WordPress, you can trust the code quality.
Because of Jetpack, you don’t have to activate 20 plugins from different companies, each of which can have bugs and security issues.
Q. Can you give us a peek into the future of Jetpack?
We’re moving away from big bubble plans where you pay X dollars a year and get all of the features. We’re moving towards an à la carte model — it’s more flexible for the end-user and simplifies their choices.
Q. Any other future ventures?
Right now, the Voyager team is working on the next generation interface for the power user who runs multiple sites — small agencies or freelance developers. They’ll be able to easily monitor Jetpack sites with a streamlined interface.
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