Team

WebDevStudios Day in the Life of a Support Engineer

Michael Beckwith

Job Title: Support Engineer

Years at WebDevStudios: 8

Photo of Michael Beckwith, Maintainn Support Technician
Michael Beckwith, Support Engineer

My move into working for WebDevStudios (WDS) was a very swift transition in September 2012. If memory serves me right, on a Saturday or maybe Sunday, I was tipped off that WDS was hiring by a then-employee and he encouraged me to apply.

The next day, I sent in my resume. I believe Monday I had an interview with our CEO, Brad Williams, over Skype, and by Tuesday I had the job offer. It was something close to that, for sure, and I was happy to leave freelancing in favor of steadier work. I’ve been here ever since.

As I sit here reflecting about the past eight years, I’m realizing that I’ve had a finger firmly on the pulse of support for WebDevStudios, almost from the start. By “support,” I mean a different type than what a typical agency provides a client. That support is most definitely important, especially for maintaining long-working relationships. The support I’ve been involved in, though, has been a mix of long-term relationships along with one-offs or momentary needs.

Plugin Support

WebDevStudios had developed some plugins during the early years. Most notable is Custom Post Type UI (CPTUI), with Brad having good foresight that user-registered custom post types and custom taxonomies were going to be BIG for the WordPress community. He jumped on that pretty early on, and CPTUI emerged as a forerunner in opening up those possibilities.

WDS also developed various other plugins that were also published on WordPress.org over time. However, there’s only so much time in the day, and running a business takes up a lot of that time. This limited Brad, and whomever else may have been asked, to handle incoming support requests for those published plugins.

I was actually fairly active in the official WordPress Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, which is an available avenue for general WordPress support even in 2020. It was in there that I believe Brad saw a natural knack I had for helping others. He also knew that public perception was incredibly important, and on the plugin front we weren’t doing so hot. By the spring of 2013, I was dubbed the “plugin czar.” Not only did I take on the responsibility of handling all of the incoming support requests for ALL of our free plugins, but I also took on the continued development of them.

While I haven’t called myself the plugin czar much since, the role is still very much a part of my workday. I primarily make sure that the support threads are responded to and helped in as timely of a manner as I can. If serious bugs or security issues arise, I address and release fixes as quick as possible. As time and schedule permit, I also try to work on new features, but that is usually not as actively handled daily. Sometimes, a solid, stable plugin that does its job well is better than a constantly moving plugin.

Regardless, every day I’m checking both RSS feeds and email notification for the support forums that I’m tasked with monitoring. These two methods help me make sure I am keeping an eye on new activity for each plugin. On top of that, I also manage and monitor any communication provided through GitHub, where we publicly host all of the source code for our free plugins. A majority of the open issues are probably created by me to help track ideas from both myself, as well as users suggestions, but users are able to contribute their own, and I respond there, as well.

Maintainn

WebDevStudios realized that they wanted to take an active role in not only helping clients release awesome websites but also maintain longer-term relationships with them well after project completion. The idea of, “Hello, get the work done, goodbye!” was not enough. Why not move a client internally to a different part of WDS to keep that relationship going?

Enter Maintainn, a WordPress support company that was started by Shayne Sanderson to provide ongoing and routine support for various sized clients, who wanted help keeping their sites updated, backed up, secured, and have custom development managed. WDS acquired Maintainn to not only continue helping those smaller website owners, but also provide a branch of the company that the agency-level clients could also rely on, after the initial project build is finished.

Once again, Brad approached me with the idea of moving me away from the agency side of WebDevStudios and put me on the Maintainn team. I agreed to the move. At the start, I was also helping out with AppPresser support when WebDevStudios still had a hand in that product, and I began splitting my time essentially three ways: plugins support, AppPresser support, and now Maintainn support.

Did I mention I can do support?

With Maintainn, I’ve done practically everything at one point or another. Whether it be the small quick-ish requests from clients, to larger feature requests for major functionality, to the grunt work of applying available updates each week, checking on security scans or reported vulnerabilities, and making sure backups are running like expected.

Today, though, my primary focus is less on the routine maintenance tasks, and more on the support requests. On a given day, I will be reviewing new requests to evaluate what is being asked for, what needs to be done to achieve that, and how much time I think it’s going to take. Some tasks are going to be pretty quick and require less than 30 minutes. Sometimes, the requests are considerably large and could range in the 20-30 hour range. It really depends on what is being requested.

I would easily say that a good portion of my Maintainn day is communication, both internally and with the clients. I’m checking my email for notifications from our various tools used by Maintainn, communicating internally with our project managers and my fellow developers, and communicating with the clients about their requests. Once estimates have received official approval, I then go heads-down on the task to begin fulfilling the request and hopefully making a happy client. I wrote a behind-the-scenes look at my role at Maintainn on our blog. Take a peek.

Pluginize

Pluginize definitely scratches the itch I have for being part of a product team. I love the idea of being able to develop the tools that help the web developers help their clients. Pluginize is also an extension of the plugin support role that I’ve had for years, but on the premium product level. As you may have guessed by now, I am also tapped to be the primary support person there. My day-to-day dealings with Pluginize include handling support tickets that come in through our ticketing system, whether it be a pre-sale question about one of the products, technical support for an issue someone is having, or if they just aren’t happy with the product and want a refund.

I also get to help continue evolving the premium products, develop new features, handle any bugs or security issues in the code, and manage new releases. Between the free plugins support and Pluginize, if you’ve ever reached out to WDSs for questions about our plugins or products, chances are you’ve had at least some feedback come from me, which I think is pretty awesome.

Constant Contact

The last proverbial hoodie I wear at WebDevStudios is the role I play with our ongoing relationship with Constant Contact. You can read more about at Success Story: Constant Contact Forms Plugin for WordPress.

This product/project has evolved and changed over time, but one thing that has managed to stay pretty consistent is my involvement with it. With that, I have a lot of contextual knowledge about how things were and are now with these plugins. This is also a different type of scratched itch, as it’s also a product, but not one that is owned by WDS.

Much like our other products and plugins, this is also one that I do a lot of forum and troubleshooting support for, as well as gather user feedback for what we’re doing well, what we’re doing not so well, and ideas to pass along to Constant Contact for how we could make the product better.

This helps Constant Contact with a more robust and solid product which helps them with their customers. I think I also benefit because at least temporarily, I get to put myself into a different pair of shoes where I need to think like a marketer and try to determine things that would be important for someone in that type of role. Because I’m on the frontlines, I am often also participating in the annual meetings with the client to help outline future roadmaps and plan for new releases.

After the work day is over…

2020 is a year that will go down in various levels of infamy, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my habits and hobbies away from my work computer, although those were definitely slowed by our pandemic. When I’m not at my work computer, chances are you will see me in one of a few various places.

First up is some local gyms. I recall it vividly, the moments when I decided that enough was enough, and it was time for a change. September 2015, right after WDS Camp 2015 in Wisconsin, I started seeing some event photos, including ones that had myself in them, and I realized what physical state I was in.

Mentally, I thought I was doing alright, even when I looked at myself in the mirror. Somehow, the event photos told me a different, more realistic story. In short, I decided it was high time to start going to the gym, and be serious about it too.

Since that September, I’ve regularly worked with a trainer multiple times a week and eventually participated in group classes, as well. All this time and effort has turned around many aspects of my life. They say it’s not a diet or a brief habit; it’s a significant life change in how you live. I have to agree. Five years later, I’m not quite to where I’d like to be (hi, abs, wherever you are), but I know I’m continually doing much better than I was before.

The second, and slightly more random place you’ll find me when away from my work computer, is one of various coffee shops around town, often with a book in hand. At the tail end of 2017, and the first part of January 2018, I noted that I didn’t do much book reading. Not only that, I wanted to actively change this, as well. It was at that point that my personal weekend reading challenge began.

The challenge is simple. Every weekend, regardless of where I am, I would read at least ONE page from an actual book. I am proud to say that the weekend streak continues to this day, and I have not missed a single weekend, as of the time of this writing. I’m not sure at the moment exactly what my grand total book and/or page count is, but I do recall the book that I started off with—The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Beyond that, I also fill my time with movies, TV, and podcasts. It’s easy to say that time is filled pretty well. And that, my friends and readers, is a pretty good idea about a day in my life with WebDevStudios and Maintainn, as a Support Engineer.

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