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This week Paul & Rich discuss what’s in a name, or more specifically, a job description. We read some recent job postings and try to understand how tech culture got to the point of needing DevSecOps and Happiness Engineers. We talk about how the industry creates specialized skills and share our experience evolving within our own jobs. 

Transcript

PF Trust me, no one else is gonna say that in the company. But I will. I love you and I know you and I’ve seen you grow. 

RZ No, but if you’re looking to fast track and get promoted at Postlight, you need to come and say that to me.

PF I was a junior engineer until two weeks and I’m the CEO! [Rich laughs] [music ramps up, plays alone for 15 seconds, fades out]

PF Alright, Rich. 

RZ Hi Paul, how are you? 

PF So I was thinking about things we could talk about and you’ve got a good subject—an actual interesting subject we should jump on. But I want to throw us a curveball. I was thinking, you know, we should—you always want to talk about something current, I was looking at Techmeme, and which—do people know Techmeme? Do you think? Do you think we need to explain what Techmeme is?

RZ We probably should explain what Techmeme is. But I bet a lot of our listeners know what it is. It’s always good to explain things. 

PF It’s sort of a river of news website about technology. [yes] And it links to all the tweets. And it’s a very easy way to see what the big stories are that people are talking about, which, you know, you’re in this world—

RZ Kind of collects—yeah, they have one for politics, which I think was the original, which is Memeorandom. 

PF Yeah, Memeorandum. That’s right. 

RZ So there’s Memeorandom for politics, Mediagazer for media news, and WeSmirch—which is a hell of a name. 

PF And Techmeme, you know, we’re not going down that path. But just like Techmeme, I mean, it’s just part of the world. It’s part of the landscape. And so I was looking, you know, it’s here’s the news on Techmeme: ”Facebook, Facebook, Google, Google, Apple, Apple, Facebook.” Like, and that’s real, that’s good, good for them. But there’s this little box that it’s like: ”who’s hiring in tech?” [yes!] And I thought I would do is, I’m gonna throw you a couple job titles. And I want you to tell me what they do.

RZ Okay, I’m down.

PF Okay. Principal Cyber Security Architect?

RZ Okay, you are responsible for—

PF Oh, wait, and actually qualify it: healthcare. Related to healthcare.

RZ So this, this opens up, that raises the bar a bit there. You’re responsible for protecting the infrastructure, the environments, and most importantly, the data, oftentimes patient data, from malicious actors that are outside of, let’s call it your network, or you know, whatever your digital walls are that protect that infrastructure and data. So cyber security is essentially: are you fortified enough? Are you aware of the kinds of threats that are out there—and there are services by the way that all day long, they just report new threats. You’re a security expert, it’s not that different than being the head of security for an office building.

PF That’s for Page.AI which is a, they’re using machine learning around cancer diagnoses. [okay] So that’s the healthcare. Their description is: ”implement a security roadmap, remediate security issues, analyze the security of applications and services, and implement security automation.” So yeah, you’re dead on. Alright. Let’s throw you one or two more. I mean, this is related. So I’m just gonna say it because it’s silly to me, but it’s a real job. DevSecOps engineer.

RZ Alright. [Paul laughs] I’m gonna take a crack at this. I’ll take a crack at it.

PF Oh it’s too much. Oh, wait, no, so D, S and O are capitalized. God, t’s a company—oh, that’s about car ownership. ”We use the power of technology to reframe used car ownership.”

RZ Look, we could have our own podcast—I feel like DevOps—around DevOps.

PF What is DevOps? [Paul chuckling]

RZ And, like, like it’s a lot!

PF Someone—DevOps is what you need when you do microservices. You can’t—[Paul laughs]

RZ Yeah. Not to be mocking, because there is true expertise and true skills around that. 

PF I’m not mocking DevOps! I’m not at all. It’s just like, now it’s DevSecOps, because the ‘Sec’ is for security, you know, leave the light on.

RZ You know how I think, what I think I want to think of DevOps? There was a day when your local environment was the whole story, that the only way you’re going to get to work and be productive is if you effectively somehow under your desk replicated the environment that is live in the world. And you know, as things became abstracted out and moved out from under your desk, and into the world, things got better in many ways, because you’re able to spin up incredible amounts of power very, very quickly. But they got worse in other ways. And the ways they got worse is that people who are opportunistic capitalized on this shift, and created boxes inside of boxes inside of boxes, which spawned its own skill set just to maintain them all. That’s not just cloud services. That’s a lot of the concepts around Docker-ization. And all, that’s just all—that whole world now needs a whole new set of experts.

PF So DevOps, its software development and operations, right. And so, what happened is like everyone decided they didn’t really need sys-admins, they didn’t need systems administrators because the servers would kind of run themselves and then one day everything got big and complicated and they went, ”Oh my God, we need sys-admins” but they’d already said that sys-admins, that wasn’t cool anymore. And so now you need a whole new thing. And you know, then there’s all this new architecture and people are like, ”No! it’s not systems administration, it’s DevOps!” But, it’s systems administration.

RZ Yeah. DevSecOps, I mean, you stuck a ‘Sec’ in there. So I’m gonna assume—

PF [Paul chuckles] Listen, that I didn’t stick ‘Sec’ in there. [Rich laughs]

RZ I’m gonna assume it’s around fortifying the environments that where a lot of the building happens? Does that sound right?

PF Yeah! I mean, here, we got: ”they report to the director of technical operations.” And it’s an ”experienced and knowledgeable engineer in the tech ops organization in the areas of cloud infrastructure, monitoring and site reliability, developer workflows, etc.” So yeah, you got it. Now, okay, so that was for shift. These all seem like fine places to work. They’re just big and they have a lot of job titles. Are you ready? [oh no] Mmmkay. Happiness Engineer. 

RZ Don’t do this to me. [Paul laughs]

PF It’s for WordPress too. I’m not even gonna like—I’m gonna go right in there. It’s for WordPress. 

RZ Okay, so, Happiness Engineer—you know, you can go one of two ways here, either they’re building a new product called ‘Happiness’ [Rich chuckles] It’s a plugin for WordPress.

PF It’s not that. That’s your, that’s what you wish.

RZ That’s what I wish. I’m guessing this is someone that’s thinking about the culture and the happiness of everyone at WordPress?

PF I mean, I hope so, right. So…

RZ Read this to me, this is devastating.

PF Okay. ”As a Happiness Engineer, you love helping people”—as opposed to all the other people who work there.

RZ Who are just selfish and self-centered, yeah, yeah.

PF [Paul chuckles] Yeah. ”Transforming publishing on the web is no small task. Our goal is to build relationships based on trust, which result in happy, passionate, loyal customers and colleagues. We do this through listening to their needs and guiding them to the fullest use of the products we offer. We are looking for people with the right mix of compassion, writing skills, and technical knowledge to get the job done. So on a typical day, you might be providing support, doing screen share sessions, helping people use automatics products, troubleshooting, investigating, creating bug reports, building a community support by sharing knowledge and helping team members around the world.” Okay. 

RZ The roles sounds legit. It’s the title is devastating.

PF The title is not for you.

RZ Well, it’s not even for me! Like do you really, I mean, who wants that title? Take me down the career path, like I got promoted from Happiness Engineer into what?

PF This is what’s critical, and you just nailed something that’s special about roles like this, is it’s almost like the Interdisciplinary Studies degree in your liberal arts college, which if you’re someone who’s a little all over the place, like me, looks really attractive. And then no one actually gets a job with that degree. Right? [yeah] So there’s always that risk where your title, you know, you’re not a support consultant. You’re not a support engineer. You’re a Happiness Engineer. 

RZ You know who has kind of a culture like this? Anyone that’s like, it’s really about the experience around the brand, right? Like, I think that’s—

PF That’s right.

RZ You know, and so when you said Happiness Engineer, I was thinking someone was worried about the employees within the company. But it sounds like what you’re talking about are partners of WordPress? I think?

PF This is a support person. Yeah, no. 

RZ Yeah! Here’s what I’m gonna blame. I’m gonna rant on about this for just one minute. Okay. I hate executive coaches so much. I hate them so much. 

PF [Paul laughs] They’re so not for you. 

RZ Here’s my problem. You’re right, maybe this is about me. I know, there are people who have grown with the help of executive coaches. I know that’s real. I guess I’m very, very stubborn. I just don’t like to be sold to. And I feel like I’m being sold to even after I signed you up. And so it doesn’t work for me. But I see its value, I get it. Because I’ve experienced the growth of a business and I understand. I’ve seen the pain through my own experience and also through other partners and other leaders who have had to mature as the business has grown. And it’s a struggle, it’s a struggle, but I hate them.

PF  I mean, you’re my executive coach, for real.

RZ Oh, shucks. 

PF You’re pretty good at it.

RZ I’m actually, I’m actually pretty good at the communication part. I’m actually good at a lot of parts of it.

PF Every now and then I leave one of our sessions just like limping and crawling on the ground because I’ve received such helpful feedback.

RZ Come on now.

PF No, no. You know what’s funny about this, for listeners, is that Richard’s—one of your best friends in the world, probably one of the most successful entrepreneurs we know. One of the most more kind of like straight arrow conservative human beings that that we work with, absolutely swears by executive coaching, lives by it. It’s critical to his success as and it helps him be vulnerable and to connect who’s in place. 

RZ You know what it is? I think what executive coaches do is they’re outside of the org structure. Like I know I have pretty severe flaws, everyone has them right. And the truth is, I don’t hear a lot about them. I’m at the top of the company, right. So nobody’s gonna come sit you down like, ”You know what? You are just—you know, that meeting we were just in? You are the worst. That was just terrible. Everybody felt like garbage!”

PF No, people absolutely, they have that conversation.

RZ They do! I’m just not there! Right?

PF [Paul laughs] Just not with you. Well me either, right?

RZ Yeah, I mean, and to be clear, neither Paul nor I are horrible monsters. You should come work at Postlight. We’re hiring. 

PF Absolutely!

RZ Yeah!

PF You know, what’s tricky, is that basically your good qualities and your bad qualities scale in a kind of linear way with your power and authority. Like it’s not—[yeah]—this is the horrible part of leadership is that I’m still the same person I was 20 years ago. You know? It’s just like, it is hard because it’s like, you can’t I would like, I’d love to wave a wand and be a certain way sometimes. Nope, not gonna be me. You too.

RZ If you said to me, ”give me your five weaknesses” I can, I can ramble them off. That’s not a problem. I don’t have a problem with that.

PF Yours or mine? I know you know mine. We talk about it almost everyday. 

RZ Yeah and you’ve crossed five as a number. But, but yeah…

PF I crushed five in the first five minutes. 

RZ No but you’ve also given me feedback as well. I mean, it’s, it is—

PF Oh, hell yeah.

RZ But, yes, I give you—look, here’s the thing. I have been a business operator for many years, you’re five years in. You were a writer, which is the equivalent of sitting in an inflatable pool for 25 years. Right? [Paul laughs] So I mean—no, no—

PF No I know. 

RZ In the context—

PF No it is like, ”Wow! Look at that, that dog can talk!” No, it’s real. 

RZ Credit to you, Paul Ford, you said, ”Ah! Let’s see what this is all about!” And you just took the hardest of hard right turns. So total credit to you. I mean, the truth is, you’re supposed to go be an editor!

PF No, I know, who would have expected this to work out and be hurtling towards 100 people? Like who would expect that with a writer in like, in this position? It’s just no unexpected, you know, turns out, we’re kind of, it’s not an accident that this happened. And it’s not just us, for God’s sake. It’s this whole company, everybody worked really hard. 

RZ It is, but the vision behind it is very much, was on the wavelength of how you and I thought about tech. And that’s why we did it, right?

PF It grows out of our friendship and our respect for the industry and for, for technology unto itself. That’s right.

RZ And our love for it! And solving big problems. Yes, that’s that’s right. So you know, here’s, I guess the point I was trying to make is, I know my five or eight, depending on how much you like or dislike me, flaws. The thing is, that ship has sailed. I’m done!

PF I know!

RZ I don’t want to grow! Like, wait, no, wait, hold on, I take it back, I take it back. I do want to grow, I do want to grow.

PF No, I’ve seen, I’ve seen you grow enormously as a leader, there is stuff that on day one of this that’s gone down at Postlight, where you would have gone, ”What the hell is this, I want nothing to do with it. Goodbye.” And now you’re like, ”Okay, this is how we work. This is how we get it done. We talk to people.” You’re a different, more empathetic leader, absolutely, than when we started. So there is that right. But it’s more than this, right. Like it’s, I’m going to say something that’s going to be complicated for people to hear, which is is that those qualities are absolutely key to our success, and more and more as a leader. So you and I are very much peers, and you have more experience running an agency than I do. I’m also the CEO of this firm. And sometimes I think to myself, ”where’s Rich going to be the most aligned to bring the most growth to Postlight?” because that’s my job. And that’s actually how I take care of you. I think about not just you running everything and making it easier for me, but like, where is the growth going to come from? And what I look at with you is those same things, because we know about them and talk about them, and you’re you’re ambitious, man, when you get a bone in your mouth, it’s very hard to get that get it out. 

RZ And it’s not driven by money. It’s driven by just the sport of it, right? It’s fun, and it’s interesting.

PF It is who you are. And no one who works at a relatively high level in this firm can disagree with this, right? It’s like, it is absolutely critical to our success. We don’t we don’t have it without it. And I’m the boss here, not, you know, not just on paper, but in lots of other ways. And like one of the big things for me growing up as a CEO is realizing my president has more experience than me, and drives growth in a really, really specific way. My job as the CEO is to shape that and help and support him so that he can bring growth to the organization and we can give everybody nice, like spot bonuses because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and take care of people.

RZ Yeah, you know that, what you’re saying is very, you’re right, it is very confusing. Because CEOs don’t take care of others. Like typically, I think the outside looking in perception of CEOs is that they are at the top, right? They need to be taken care of. They’ve got a chief of staff, they’ve got an assistant, they’ve got all the things so they can think their thoughts, right? [That’s right] That’s typically how it’s viewed. But the reality is, I mean, look, I can’t speak to the reality of going from 100 to 500 people, I can speak to the reality of going from 20 to 80, 100 people. The reality is, is that as you grow, you don’t gain control, you lose control, as you grow. [yeah!] And if you think you’re gonna go get that control through sheer will and screaming in rooms, you’re not going to it’s not going to go well.

PF Some people can do it. And basically they make themselves ill by doing it, they stay on top of everything. They look at every number, they worry about everything. And they are a force of nature and everybody fears them. You know, for me, this role has been really interesting because I’m a soft power person. I like influence. I like to talk about things. I like to see what happens and I like to shape things. I don’t like to tell people directly what to do. I’ve learned to do it, but it’s just not my thing. And as I’m growing in the role, and I’m working with you, the boss of a company that’s growing, it’s all soft power, I can’t control things directly. And that used to really, I used to really feel ambiguous and confused about that. And now I’m just like, ”Oh, yeah, I can’t control that.” I can say how I think it could go. And I can say, ”You know what I would do in your position.” That’s the limit of my power. And that’s actually accepting that has been probably easier for me than for a lot of traditional CEOs just because of my wiring. It’s a thing I delivered to the firm.

RZ Well, I mean, look, a lot of what makes Postlight successful is hard to put down on paper. Actually, it’s sort of a product of a collection of very soft, ambiguous things. And the talent we built. I mean, the truth is, we’re good at the first conversation and the fifth to get you to sign the contract. But we’ve also very consciously and frankly, with a very hands off approach, let this thing build itself. And it’s just very high quality. The sound is like an ad, but that is really why we’ve thrived. 

PF Then the good software goes into the marketplace. [That’s right] Like we just had an national media launch that went beautifully. [yes] Just an Android and iOS, and just like, here it is, here is a whole new property and a whole new world. You and I didn’t write a line of code, that’s for sure. 

RZ Alright, so that we went on this tangent, Paul, I’m glad we did. It’s an interesting conversation. But Happiness Engineer is the product of a consulting firm that came in and told—

PF Ohhhh, no, I doubt it! I bet that comes directly out—this is WordPress! WordPress has its own culture and has its own things going on.

RZ Oh, no, there is no blame or finger pointing here. If you can increase happiness in the world, however way and if that is that includes responding to a ticket within an hour. We can use some happiness these days!

PF No, of course, you know, the word that I associate with happiness are WooCommerce that’s what I when I think to myself, happiness, the next thing that happens is I think WooCommerce.

RZ Let’s close it out with one more.

PF Hold on. I’m gonna give you five. Ready?

RZ Go!

PF Product designer – revenue growth, product designer – text experience, product designer – Wayfinding, product design manager – adoption, product design manager – design system.

RZ Okay, so I’m gonna bucket the first four into their own category, what I call the drop down designer, some products gets so big, that they like, ”what do you do?” ”Oh, I work at Spotify.” Like, ”Oh, that’s really cool! You’re a designer, you design Spotify.” It’s like, ”No, I designed the queue but not the queue on iOS. I designed the queue experience in Spotify for Android.” That’s because it’s just the sheer size and breadth of the work. 

PF So we’re talking about, this is Asana. 

RZ Yeah, that makes sense. And, and but the last one is the most interesting, right, which is a design system, right? Like product designer design system, which is essentially you are responsible for consistency across the building blocks that are going to make up the experience this way, it all still feels like one thing and doesn’t feel stitched together.

PF And that sort of feels like what creative directors used to be right? Like now it’s instead of walking around and giving advice, you’re gonna build a framework that scales greater than your eyes can. 

RZ This is like a style guide, except for functionality. So it’s like a functional style guide.

PF I mean, having seen them and actually having we’ve built them, you know, a lot of times what happens now is not only do you say, ”Hey, here’s how you should do it. And here’s where the logo goes” but you deliver a large set of actual components ready to go. So engineers with a least a little bit of eye are able to cut and paste apps together. And they look pretty good.

RZ Yeah, it’s actually, it’s one of our kind of like secret weapons is that not only do we take this design system, which are these sort of smaller, sort of more discrete components that make up the whole experience, but we actually let the engineers think that way, as well. So they were able to create these UI libraries, in some cases. Very cool stuff. How’d I do? Paul,

PF You did great. You’ll guide the vision for the system foundations and tools that empower our product designers and engineers to build high quality well design software. For some reason, I just love doing this. I could look at job titles all day.

RZ Well, you know, it’s an industry that spins up very specialized skills every five years. I mean, that’s real. That’s real. And that’s a fascinating thing. It’s just speaks to how dynamic it all is. I know we sound mocking and cynical as we go through these things. But it all comes from a place of love. I don’t actually don’t think we need to pitch Postlight, Paul. I feel like we’ve talked enough about Postlight in this podcast.

PF Absolutely. I mean, hello@postlight.com is the email. Postlight.com is the website. Postlight is the company and we’re good digital strategy partner. You know, one of the services we do offer, quietly like this isn’t on the website will help you write that job description.

RZ We do! We’ve done it in the past. Absolutely.

PF It’s kind of like we put everyone to work inside the firm for our clients, including our own HR. [Rich laughs] We’ll be like ”hey, can you come over here?”

RZ ”Got a minute?”

PF I don’t know, I feel you learn a lot about culture, when you think to yourself ”what is a Happiness Engineer and why is that happening right now in that company?” and it’s fun to think that through. 

RZ Have a great week, everyone!

PF Bye! [Music ramps up, plays alone for 3 seconds, ends]