Why WPMU DEV Has the BEST Support in the WordPress Community. Period.

Why WPMU DEV Has the BEST Support in the WordPress Community. Period.

Our support team works hard behind the scenes to help members using our 140+ plugins and 150+ themes. This is the story behind our head of support, Tim Bowers, and our awesome support crew.

Tim likes to remind our CEO James Farmer that he was rejected the first time he applied for a job on the support team.

All in jest, of course.

Back in 2005, Tim was driving buses and limousines and freelancing (creating small sites, hosting and reselling domains) when he first started using WordPress and WordPress MU (now Multisite) for a network of paranormal sites that he managed.

He was kicking ass online, but things weren’t so great IRL. His day job sucked and things came to a head when his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his employer fired him for taking time off to spend with his dad.

“It was a shitty company to work for. Them sacking me gave me the motivation to turn a hobby and passion into a career so I guess there was a silver lining.”

WPMU DEV Head of Support Tim Bowers works from home and gets to spend lots of time with his daughter Erin.

In 2007 he stumbled upon WPMU DEV and signed up, but it wasn’t until 2010 when membership points were introduced that he took his membership seriously. Seeing an opportunity, Tim got stuck into helping other members in the forums. In less than three weeks, he secured a free lifetime membership – and was also the first person to do so.

Not long after when WPMU DEV advertised for two positions on the support team, Tim jumped at the chance. And… was rejected.

“I applied for a job but James turned me down in favour of two other applicants,” he says.

“Then some months later he contacted me out of the blue and offered me a position. I said ‘yes,’ obviously!”

As it turns out, the guys James hired didn’t stick around long.

Tim says the support team back then was tiny.

“If I remember correctly it was just Mason James and I for a while and then we set on some more staff,” he says.

“I worked everything: emails, support, documentation, testing. Whatever was needed, I did it.

“I loved the work, it was great.”

Tim proved to have staying power, outlasting Mason and becoming our support lead in January 2013.

The WPMU DEV Support Team

The times they are a-changin’. Tim now manages a crew of about 15 support staff based all over the world as part of the distributed team at WPMU DEV.

“We have some guys who are fantastic with product knowledge and advise on plugins, their features, that kind of thing,” Tim says.

“Then on the other end of the scale we have developers who work support.”

Support times
Since Tim took over the lead support role, response times have dropped dramatically and are still falling.

He says communication and trust are key to the success of the team.

“I think it’s important to express how difficult it can be with distributed teams. We need to trust in each other explicitly. And I need to know that I can depend on the guys who work for me,” he says.

“Managing a team of this size has its own challenges. We’re all in different timezones, for one. You can’t just have the usual friendly banter that you might be accustomed to within an office, a shop or a production line.

“It’s important we keep team spirit going.”

Average staff response times
Average staff response times. Click image for a large view.

So how do you encourage team spirit within a distributed support team?

Our company “water cooler” is our internal P2 site where we chat, talk shop and share pictures of cats. Support staff also regularly catch up on Skype and Google Hangouts to, well, hang out.

“Most days I check in on stats to see how things are going. I then share the love with our team, praising those with exceptionally high positive ratings and encouraging the rest of the team to compete for top position. We recognise the top dog with our monthly awards, too,” Tim says.

Joining the WPMU DEV Support Team

Just like joining our developer team, applying for a support job at WPMU DEV is no easy task.

Hoang Ngo
Developer/support staff member Hoang Ngo hard at work.

First, you’ve got to get through an interview with Tim.

“It involves us chatting about them, not WordPress, not the job, just them. We want to know that the people we work with are caring, sharing, team players. We need to know who they are, if they’re dependable,” he says.

“You can have the world’s most talented support guy, a proficient coder with extensive knowledge in many areas, but if he’s an arrogant ass who thinks only of himself then he could end up rubbing the whole team the wrong way.”

Applicants are then asked to complete two task sheets – one focusing on how they might interact with WPMU DEV members, and another exploring their WordPress know-how.

Those who get through to the next round are offered a trial period on the support team and are assigned a couple of training buddies. If they impress, they are offered a full-time job.

“This process has worked pretty well for us so far,” Tim says.

“It’s given us quality people whilst weeding out those less capable ones.”

All Ages, All Skill Levels

Patrick Cohen
Patrick Cohen prefers to work outdoors while helping our members.

Our support crew are a cool bunch of guys (and hopefully more girls in the not too distant future!) who have one thing in common – they know their stuff when it comes to WordPress.

Patrick Cohen, who lives in Montreal, Quebec, started writing for WPMU DEV part-time in 2012 before moving to support and documentation full-time soon after.

While he usually works from his home office or on the couch with his cat, his CCO (chief cuddle officer), Patrick likes to get out and about on his bike.

“When in the country, you’ll usually spot me working in the middle of the woods,” he says.

“What I love most about working at WPMU DEV is being able to call on anyone at pretty much any time to leverage their expertise when faced with a particularly tricky member issue, “tricky” being a subjective operator, of course.”

One of our youngest support stars is Jack Kitterhing from Kent in the UK, who, at 19, has been with WPMU DEV well over a year and is a workaholic.

“I’m on the computer from 8am till 9-10pm six days a week and I love it!” Jack says.

“Yes I’m a nerd. Even on my day off I’m sitting at a computer.”

Support guys Aristeides Stathopoulos and George Michael from Greece at our company meetup in New York last year.

Jack started learning WordPress when he was just 12 and hasn’t stopped. After signing up for a WPMU DEV membership, Jack immediately set out to earn a free lifetime membership. Within five weeks, he was offered a job on the support team before he even received his lifetime membership.

Jack says he enjoys the team atmosphere at WPMU DEV (“Who would have thought you could have any atmosphere in a remote job, let alone a great one!”) and gets a lot of satisfaction helping members.

“The members are all round awesome! Sure, there’s the occasional one that isn’t so happy, but for every one of them there’s a thousand who appreciate what we do and the help we provide,” he says.

Fun fact about Jack: he covered a staggering 20,000 support questions last year!

Then there’s David Mallonee from sunny Los Angeles, who was on the support team with Tim in the early days before leaving and returning last year.

David, a former professional hip hop dancer/breakdancer, says he initially experimented with Joomla, Drupal and C5.

“I tried WordPress and fell in love, dropped everything else. No other beauty compares!” he says.

“I love chatting with the support team and members about this awesome platform. Keeps me keen on it all.

“I’ve had members get really thrilled when I give them code snippets to provide a feature they need. It’s really cool to see them get so happy and feel so glad they joined the service.”

Hoang Ngo from Vietnam, who only recently joined WPMU DEV, after worked as a developer on serta.com. He works across both the support and developer teams.

For Pranaya Chaudhary (PC), who lives in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, working from home is “like a dream come true.”

“I used to imagine going to office in shorts and wearing an old t-shirt ,but now I can do all of that,” PC says.

“A typical day consists of setting alarms to wake up on time for the dedicated hours, having or not having a quick shower and then spending the day with my laptop. I keep changing the locations while I am working so that the surroundings keep changing and the creative juices do not stop flowing.

“The strangest place I have worked from is a Jungle Camp in Nainital and from the roadside when I am driving places. Thanks to mobile Internet, I can be almost anywhere and still work.”

And let’s not forget Tim, who lives in a loud “full house of women,” including twin 13-week-old girls, a two-year-old daughter, his wife and his mother.

He says his “office” is his living room.

“I sit next to a 55-inch TV that often plays Peppa Pig during the day for my daughter. The living room is also her playroom,” he says.

“So I get to work and spend quality time with my kids.”

Meet and Greet Our Crew

Our support guys don’t just sit in front of their computers all day (or in Patrick’s case, sit in the woods!). They also get along to WordCamps and Meetups.

In January, PC and Ashok Kumar Nath, from Bangladesh, went along to WordCamp Baroda where they met members and gave away free memberships.

Say “hello” next time you see someone with a WPMU DEV t-shirt on at a WordPress event – you’ll probably get a free membership.

Ashok and PC with former WPMU DEV writer Siobhan McKeown at WordCamp Baroda in January.
Ashok and PC with former WPMU DEV writer Siobhan McKeown at WordCamp Baroda in January.

What’s Next?

Since taking on the lead support role, Tim has streamlined how we help our members, slashing response times and instigating dedicated responder hours.

More recently, he oversaw the implementation of a staff overview system. Whenever a staff member responds to a ticket, this system places any responses from members within their dedicated feed.

There will also soon be a new buddy support system to ensure there are more sets of eyes on individual support tickets, as well as a new Second Level Support group. This group of mostly developers will focus on resolving more complex and time consuming threads that often need custom solutions.

And, of course, Tim is always working on reducing response times and making sure our members are happy.

It seems James made a good call hiring Tim after all.

We’re releasing a new post each week to give a little insight into WPMU DEV, who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re taking our members.

Past posts in this series:

Part 1: How an English Lit. Grad. Who Didn’t Know PHP from FTP Bootstrapped a Successful WordPress Company.
Part 2: Meet the WPMU DEV-elopers.