10 years at Acquia
April 18, 2011. I’m taking breakfast at a hotel in Woburn, MA. In front of me, there’s a guy on his phone. I could swear I saw him somewhere. Turns out I knew him from Drupalcon pictures. For the next few years, Tim Millwood would become my fellow Supportian, echo chamber, and trusted ally to hold the fort with me during EMEA hours.
After breakfast, I walk to the Acquia office nearby and get to meet my new manager, the extraordinary Kent Gale. To this day, he’s the reason why I’m still at Acquia. Kent makes people better. He makes you think outside the box, he asks the right questions, never gives up, and has the utmost benevolence to empower you to reveal your potential.
I’m dressed in a suit and everybody here is wearing t-shirts, having fun and throwing nerf gun darts. Jeannie helps me get set up. A few hours later I’m grabbing my first Support ticket. This is a Drupal Commons issue and the customer is frustrated. Where should I even start?
Lesson 1: Observe and learn. Rinse. Repeat.
Back then, the worldwide Acquia Support team was composed of 7 passionate engineers, Open Source lovers and Drupalists from the first hour. Acquia built a reputation of having a fantastic Support department in large parts due to this initial team working day and night to make things right for our customers. A world-class team Kent built, obviously.
In my first week at Acquia, I was watching over the shoulders of Alex Jarvis and Peter Bull. They both were kicking it. Alex was recording screencasts for our customers. I had never seen this before. He was patient, had a lot of empathy, and always had a smile on his face, which always made you feel like you hadn’t interrupted him in the middle of something important.
Pete was quiet. On the phone, he would always find a way to reassure customers and earn their trust. I was impressed by his many split terminals and fancy bash aliases all over his screen. Was it this that made him close tickets faster than they would come in? Probably a bit of this but more importantly a great part of awesomeness.
From Alex, I learned how to have the right level of empathy and care for our customers. From Pete I learned how to process things faster by injecting automation wherever I could, by still giving customers the sentiment their problem was my highest priority for the day, and delivering up to the promise.
Then, I met my other fantastic colleagues. George Cassie, Jonathan Webb, Chris Rutter and Kenny Silanskas.
You’d find George often sitting aside from the group to concentrate. He’d pass by you with eyes wide open, staring, would not say a thing, but when you’d come back at your desk he had solved the issue you had asked him to assist you with. Not waiting for a thank you nor saying he was too busy ever. He was just trying to unblock you and our customers. George was always doing the right thing and leading by example. Oh, and he was forcing you to chill out. I still remember him seeing me stressed out during an AWS outage and flat out saying: “you know, these are just websites”.
Jonathan was so quiet you’d often forget he was in the room. I often didn’t dare bugging him because he looked like he was in his own bubble, solving big problems and distracting him would change the course of History.
Jonathan introduced me to ack and he taught me how to become more analytical and get to the bottom of issues the right way, instead of quickly. More importantly, over the years he motivated me and inspired me to become a vegetarian. Without judging, without influencing. Just by being analytical about it and offering me to taste the most delicious Vegan New York cheesecake I ever had. Obviously he knew my weaknesses.
Chris and Kenny were loud. Always making jokes and walking around in the office. I quickly figured out this was their way of dealing with the pressure. Chris was sending a lot of energy your way and was constantly sharing the details of how he’d resolved an issue and the gotchas he’d learn in the process. He was doing both Support and Ops, so he was critical into helping Support deal with server/stack issues, which was roughly 80% of all Support requests we were getting back then. To this day, Chris is one of the best troubleshooters I’ve ever worked with.
Kenny was larger than life (RIP), a natural-born leader and a source of inspiration. He would push you to become a better version of yourself, one ticket at a time. Customers loved him because he was giving them hope and a path forward to address their thorny problems.
And there was Tim. Like me he had just met the team and was getting started. I didn’t know then he would influence my path, and would be my go-to example of someone who has carved out a meaningful role for themselves where nobody realized we needed it, and now we can’t do without it.
Only one week had passed, but I knew things were never going to be the same. There was just too much energy in the air.
Lesson 2: When you see something, do something.
Losing old habits was hard. Working for a startup company (in early 2011, Acquia had less than 90 employees) forced me to expand my horizon, keep an open mind and be creative to survive through the next day. I still remember bringing up yet another issue with Josh Brauer and hearing him say: “ok, you’ve found a problem. Good. So why don’t you go fix it yourself?”. Asking for forgiveness rather than permission. That was the mindset I’d live by going forward.
Josh was spectacular in many ways. Today we’d call him a unicorn. He was highly technical, he understood the business well, and he participated in developing the initial TAM model. He was also instrumental in closing out 2 of the biggest deals Acquia ever had back then.
As Acquia grew, I grew. In 2012 it was no longer time to only learn from others but to start making a difference. I stepped up as a Senior Customer Support Engineer and as the EMEA Support Team Lead a year after. In a startup company months pass by like years. The landscape is moving so fast and you learn so much in everything you do that you quickly become a Senior member of the organization.
It was time to systematically do something to address the problems I was seeing, and translating them into concrete solutions. And that’s what I did. Ticket after ticket, escalation after escalation, KB article after KB article. I was trying to live up to the high standards my teammates had taught me about, and mentor newcomers so they’d follow the path.
Lesson 3: Once in Support, always in Support.
At some point I realized I could be solving a hundred tickets a week or transform frustrated customers into evangelists, it was never going to end and I’d have to do more and solve larger problems. Have a lasting impact.
So, in 2015 I took on a Senior Technical Solutions Analyst role, and happily came back to working under Kent to focus on preparing the company for Drupal 8. The irony is I focused on this for at least 2 years after Drupal 8 was released. This was such a large change, we had so many people to train, so many systems to update and properties to upgrade. It was the longest, toughest but also most valuable thing I had yet offered the company in return of everything I had learned since I joined.
What I learned in Support can be applicable to any field: communicate early and often, set realistic expectations, don’t make promises you can’t keep, do the right thing, have empathy, remember that the person screaming at you might have had a very, very bad day, be respectful, question everything… In Support, we had a saying: “Once in Support, always in Support”. And that’s absolutely true. With those base principles in mind, everything you do in any field will have more meaning because you’ll be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and have a different perspective on things. Priceless.
In 2017, I started working closer and closer with Product and Engineering to help make our platform better, also taking on an informal Product Feedback Manager role to be a liason between Customer Success and Product.
Lesson 4: Everything happens for a reason.
Years passed and opportunities passed. I had several interviews for other companies, some niche with a project I could stand behind and others at the top of the foodchain. But there was always something. Either I’d miss my colleagues and friends or I’d miss Drupal and Open Source. Or both. Sometimes, it was a great opportunity, but not at the right time. Sometimes I was just making excuses to not make the move. I couldn’t put words on it yet, but I knew I wasn’t done with Acquia. And the reason why is I had spent most of my journey there fixing stuff and filling in the blanks, without actually building something. In business terms, it meant making the move from Customer Success to Product. And this move happened in early 2020 when Matthew Grasmick gave me the opportunity to become the Product Manager for Acquia Cloud IDE. When I asked him “Why me?”, he said “7 years ago I was an Acquia customer and you gave me the greatest Support I ever received. I even sent a letter of recommendation for you.”. Pretty unexpected, yet it reminded me making things right for customers can have a lasting impact.
At Acquia, we have had a long love/hate relationship with Developers. For years, developers hated us for not giving them the tools they needed to be successful, or giving them half-baked solutions that wouldn’t cut it for them. And there’s no denial, we lacked a good vision there, and it took us a while to come up with a strategy that made sense. But this is over now. Matt is one of the strongest technical profiles I know, and also a brilliant strategist. Under his leadership, Acquia’s move to win developers back has already made a huge difference. And it’s just getting started.
Lesson 5: Stick to who you really are.
Throughout 2020 we continued building Cloud IDE and introduced Acquia CLI. At the end of the year, I told Matt I prefered the inward facing (technical) activities of Product Ownership over outward facing (marketing/sales) activities of Product Management. Some people would say it’s a career suicide. Some others would say it’s important to wake up and be happy to do what you do. I’ve not been overthinking it, and just followed my gut feeling. I always have. And this is how in early 2021 I transitioned to PO from PM for Cloud IDE, Acquia CLI, and the Acquia Lando Plugin. Needless to say things are busy.
What is next I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll move back to Product Management at some point? Perhaps I’ll do something entirely different? Perhaps I’ll be a PO for the next 5 years? The one thing I know is always being on the lookout for new opportunities and having a career plan is not who I am. What matters to me is to make sure I’m right where I belong. I’m not aiming for a Manager or Director role because I’d lose being a technician, and this is the one thing I know for sure I want to stay close to at the moment.
So here I am, celebrating 10 years at Acquia. Still learning, still being inspired, still grateful to have been given the opportunity back then.