What’s it like to work at a fully distributed company with a worldwide team and culture guided by a Creed? Welcome to “Life @ Automattic,” an occasional series of Q&As with the people behind the products. Today we spoke with Talent Operations Wrangler Elizabeth Urello.
Who are you, what’s your job title, and where do you live?
I’m Elizabeth Urello, my title is Talent Operations Wrangler, and I live in Kyle, TX which is a small town about 45 minutes south of Austin.
What is a “Talent Operations Wrangler,” anyway?
I work on our Happiness Experience team. My area of HappEx works on all aspects of the employee experience at Automattic, from hiring and onboarding through to internal career growth and development.
I personally work primarily with our support department—our Happiness Engineers—and the work I do is pretty varied. For example, I might create training for a new skill that the team is trying to learn, or tackle improving a process that is too time-consuming or not as effective as it should be. I also do a lot of coaching and support for team leads.
How did you come to work at Automattic? What attracted you?
I spent my 20s working wage jobs to support my artistic ambitions and around the time I turned 30, I decided I wanted to start over with more of a career. I was exploring a lot of different possibilities when I met an Automattician in a creative writing group I’d joined, and he encouraged me to apply for the Happiness (support) role here. During my trial, I found that everyone who worked here was smart and funny, and it was so much fun working with them all day. I also liked that the company had lots of opportunities for internal growth, and did not care about credentials or background—just whether or not you could do the job excellently. That was 11 years ago, and I’m still here!
Walk us through a typical work day?
I’m the single mother of a two-year-old, so I work a set schedule of Monday-Friday, 8am-4pm, because that is when I have childcare. My daughter and I get up about half an hour before our nanny arrives. I make coffee and sit with them for a bit while they have their breakfast and then I kiss my daughter goodbye and head into my office. I will admit that I pretty much always start work still wearing my bathrobe.
My daily routine varies a lot! Right now, I’m working on updating our onboarding materials for some new hires who’ll be coming into a particular support division. This is pretty urgent, so I’m working on it all day every day.
My brain works best first thing in the morning when I’m most fully caffeinated, so I typically try to get my deepest or most complex work for the day done before I do anything else. Once I feel like I’ve accomplished something, I will take a short exercise break—usually spinning in my garage—and then shower and return to my office. Then, I usually just crank away until four when my nanny brings my daughter home, and then I’m done. Not the most exciting daily routine, but it works well for me!
Has your job taught you anything about life?
I’ve worked extensively in leadership at the company—first leading Happiness Engineers, then leading Happiness Leads, then leading a division, and now coaching and mentoring team leads. I’ve learned more than I could ever imagine about motivating people, supporting them, and helping them do their best work. While it might sound a little strange, I definitely think all the work I’ve done with my colleagues over the years has helped me be a more empathetic and supportive parent than I otherwise would have been.
What challenges have you faced on the job?
Every role I’ve taken on has been extremely challenging, but a broader challenge that I faced on joining a distributed company was setting and maintaining clear boundaries between work and home, since I was working in my home. People have different tactics for this, but the biggest win for me was not using my work computer for anything but work, leaving it in my office, and not putting anything work-related on my phone. This has become even more important since becoming a parent. When I’m not in my home office, I am not at work, full stop.
How has having a work-from-home job made things easier (or more difficult) as a single parent?
I know so many mothers of young children seeking a work-from-home job, and so I think it’s important to be clear about this: work-from-home is not a panacea for our lack of support for families and the increasing inaccessibility of childcare.
Work-from-home jobs are still work, and parenting (especially parenting small children) is a full-time job. You cannot do two jobs at once, so even if every company becomes work-from-home, we still need wide-ranging systemic solutions to better support working parents.
That said, I cannot possibly express how much working for an employee-friendly distributed company like Automattic has enabled my lifestyle. My daughter knows that I’m always here, I don’t waste precious quality time with her sitting in Austin’s gridlocked traffic twice a day, and I don’t worry about taking off work when she’s sick. Plus when she was born, I had six months of paid parental leave!
What do you enjoy most about the job?
I love that Automattic is constantly changing. It hasn’t been the same two years in a row since I started here—the challenges are always new. For some, that constant change and unpredictability might be stressful, but for me, it means I’m always learning something and I’m never bored.
Your career path has been pretty unique. What advice would you offer to readers who might be seeking similar opportunities?
Stay open to possibilities and don’t be too prescriptive about what you want to do at work or what title you want to have. I came into Automattic as a Happiness Engineer (customer support representative), and over the years, I’ve always been quick to jump on any new thing the company really needed people to do, even if it didn’t initially sound that appealing to me personally.
Especially in tech, things are always changing, so employees who are open-minded and adaptable are valuable—and you never know what a given opportunity will lead to in the future!
I’ve tried out some things that I thought I’d love that didn’t end up feeling like a good fit in the end, and vice versa, so I think being open to exploration can help you find opportunities you never expected.
Thanks for spending time with us, Elizabeth!
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