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ExpressionEngine 2 Week: Interview with Lisa Wess

Lisa Wess is the community manager for EllisLab and probably one of the most patient and supportive service reps in the business. She has to deal with requests from angry, unhappy or confused people all the time. She does so with such finesse it’s like a ballet of customer service. Not only does she help out with support requests, but she is in charge of managing the whole community.

We talked with Lisa about what 2.0 means for the community, well-fostered on EE’s forums and site, and what will happen.

With 2.0’s upcoming release, are there any plans to change the forums?

There may be some changes to the support structure that will change in some ways how the support forums will work.  There may also be a slight restructure, but there are no major changes planned at this time.

What will become of community features such as the professional network and EllisLab certified addons?

The Professional Network is going to be reviewed after 2.0’s release.  We will also be reviewing the certification process and hope to make it available to more developers in the future.

What do you think will be the hardest challenge of transitioning the community from 1.6 to 2.0?

I believe that support is going to be very busy and likely very fast-paced, more so than it is now.

We’re used to busy support forums; but outside of the 1.0 beta and pMachine Migration, some of us have limited experience with a large transition of this nature.  Most of our TSS were not around for that 1.0 transition either.  So this is going to be new for the community and new for our support staff.  We have an incredible team and we’re definitely up to the task, but we’ll be learning along with the community, and that is certainly going to be a challenge.

Beyond that,the biggest challenge in many support roles is getting users to read the documentation.  The update process for 2.0 is very similar to a normal update and is very well documented, but some people will simply not read that documentation and forge ahead.  People can save themselves (and us!) potential frustration by taking a few minutes to review the docs prior to updating.

I am very much looking forward to the release of 2.0 and the challenge that will bring to support.  Our team is up to it and our community is, as well.  It will be a very exciting time and we’ll learn together.

Where would you like to see the community go post-2.0?

There are a lot of places I’d love to see the community go to.  I’d love to see, for instance, more meet-ups and events centered around the ExpressionEngine and CodeIgniter communities.

With that said we have a fabulous community with active developers, designers, and end-users engaging and interacting with each other.  I think that 2.0 will grow the community, but I do not foresee massive changes from that.

How has the support and community team grown up to this point? What were the reason for the changes?

Well, over-time there has been growth, of course, as ExpressionEngine has grown.

Support itself has certainly progressed over time.  In May 2004 Rick Ellis, Paul Burdick, and Chris Curtis were on the forums offering support.  Chris Curtis was the only staff-member dedicated to support and he was full-time.  Over time some of the community members were asked to help moderate the forums; ultimately two of them simply did not have time to continue that moderation and their participation dropped off.  You might remember them as they’re still somewhat active in the community: Les Jenkins and Chris Ruzin.  They were definitely part of the community’s growth and I miss their participation.

And, of course, I was one of the original moderators.

Over time Chris Curtis had to move on and this change created support openings that EllisLab chose to fill from the active members of the community.  The original three Technical Support Specialists (TSS) were myself (LisaJill), Robin Sowell (rob1) and Derek Jones (Nafai).

From there the support team has grown and evolved.  Sue Crocker, one of my original mentors on the forums, is now a TSS, Robin Sowell is now a Code Mechanic,  I am Director of Community Services, and Derek Jones is now CTO. 

John Henry Donovan, Ingmar Greil, Adam Dorsey, and Greg Salt make up the rest of the TSS team.

Greg Aker and Pascal Kriete also spent some time as TSS before being promoted to ExpressionEngine Specialist and Code Mechanic, respectively.  Derek Allard was our Senior TSS prior to becoming a developer.

As you can see from above, the biggest changes in support have been internal promotions that have caused us to hire new TSS.  In most of these cases TSS’ have been promoted to development.

For me, the exciting part of this is that it is ultimately our incredible community that feeds into our team.  Part of the TSS hiring process is looking at that person’s community participation, and so we know that the people we hire are engaged with the community and understand the importance of said community.  In this way the community itself has become a vital part of our company growth.

That’s not limited to EllisLab; from the community has come incredible developers that have built their own business models around ExpressionEngine.  This development community draws in more end-users and more developers, and so we continue to evolve.

Where do you see the support and community team going in the future?

We are currently reviewing the support model that we offer.  Forum based support will continue but we’ll be expanding our support model and those options will likely also require growing our support team.  New support team members will be hired from our community and so the circle continues.

The community has a life of its own at this point.  There is SXSW, of course.  We have also the yearly EERoadshow, the hopefully yearly EECI, and meet-up groups springing up around the globe.  The community’s momentum has taken it out of the forums and online world, and into “real-world” physical gatherings; this is incredibly exciting.

What’s it like day-to-day handling the community for ExpressionEngine?

Each day has its own challenges, especially with the beta underway.  On one day we might have a few simple questions solved by dynamic=“off”.  On another day we might have many complicated questions involving optimization or other difficult-to-track-down issues.  Most days are a combination.  We take each day - well, each thread - at a time and work through it together.

Our support team is in a Jabber chat room and many spend time there even when not working, so we have great communication and team-work, not to mention some great jokes.

What feature are you particularly excited for in 2.0?

I am extremely excited to see ExpressionEngine 2.0 on CodeIgniter.  The reason for this, though I am not a developer myself, is that the implications for the community are huge.  This brings ExpressionEngine to a new level, in some ways incorporating the highly active CodeIgniter Development Community with ExpressionEngine’s own community.  I can not wait to see what comes from this evolution.

I am also very excited to see us incorporating the FieldFrame API into ExpressionEngine. FieldFrame has been extremely well received by the community and it will bring a new level of flexibility being a core part of ExpressionEngine.

I am most excited that with 2.0 we will be including an incredible learning resource: the Agile Theme.  This default theme includes heavily commented templates that showcase many of ExpressionEngine’s features.  This will continue to be expanded throughout the year after 2.0’s release as an ongoing learning tool.

How, in the future and now, do you expect to deal with Ryan Masuga?

You know, my old standby was to throw pillows at community members… feathers littered our forums for most of 2004 and 2005.  Perhaps that needs to be reinstated.

(Editor: OK, that last one was a throwaway question for our frenemy Mr. Masuga of Devot:ee, and yet she still handled it so well)

Final thoughts?

If I may, I’d like to thank my entire team.  Back when I was in Smith College, I never dreamt that answering a few (thousand) support posts in my spare time would lead to an engaging, exciting career with a team that exceeds my expectations on a daily basis.  I love EllisLab and I can’t imagine working with a better or more brilliant group of people. Thank you.

Posted on Oct 28, 2009 by Kenny Meyers

Filed Under: ExpressionEngine 2 Week