Written as a response to a writing challenge in SupportDriven. A community of the best (that’s a 100% objective observation) professionals working in customer support and product management at companies large and small.
Very little about my career has been planned. But it has been great and has mostly been a constantly changing mix of teaching, customer support, and UX/product management.
A Customer Support Career
A career in customer support doesn’t necessarily stay in customer support from beginning to end. I’ve found myself weaving in and out of different areas of support again and again. I also don’t think Customer Support is really only a job or a career. I think in some ways it’s a mindset. A particular way of approaching collaborative problem solving which can be developed and applied in many different directions.
I started out as a teacher in my early twenties because I needed to make money to pay for a motorcycle trip around Europe that I’d already taken. While paying off my debt and enjoying teaching I got interested in how technology could be used in a teaching environment. That brought me to studying Information Science which in Denmark is a mix of UX design, some coding, and some business. I freelanced while studying and I thought I would just keep doing that after I graduated. So graduating was pushed of again and again until I got the opportunity to come work for Google in Dublin, Ireland.
Getting Into Support
The job was in online sales and support where I started out working with small businesses in Scandinavia who advertised on Google. It’s a typical entry level job in a big company, and it’s often how people outside the US get started at big American tech companies. People from many backgrounds join through these teams and then move around in the support and account management teams or move to product or marketing teams. I started out in and stayed with AdWords but many of my colleagues moved to AdSense, Gmail, and other Google products.
I eventually started working on the support platform and gradually spent less time directly supporting customers. In that role I was able to use my UX background and get into product management and managing larger projects. Eventually I ended up managing a few people as well.
Starting On Our Own
After six years at Google I left to start my own company. The goal of the company was to figure out which kind of company I wanted. Working on a startup brought me back into support in a few different ways. We’ve done various projects with startups and non-profits and as part of that I get to provide the kind of help and support that I used to when I worked directly with customers at Google. I love working on our client projects and especially the post implementation or launch phase where I get to take the support role again. Answering questions, troubleshooting with clients and users, gives me that very direct feeling of accomplishment every time I can answer someone’s question. The pay-off is rarely that immediate in any of the other types of work I do.
We also build products of our own, so I also work closely with the users of those products to help them make the most of it, and to keep track of what we need to do better.
Some of the tools we’ve built are for support and product teams. So I even get to talk to a lot of other people in support about what’s going on in their teams and companies.
Other People’s Careers
Lately I’ve been running into support again in my occasional role as an instructor on the full-time UX designer program at General Assembly. The program is a full-time, 10 week program for adults changing careers or adding a new skillset to their current one. Working with the students at General Assembly who are in the middle of some pretty exciting and scary career (and life) transitions, we have a lot of conversations about what they can take from their previous jobs into a UX design career. Or, what they can bring from UX back into the job they already have. The conversation is particularly easy with people who come from a customer support background. Ok, I’m biased, but it is usually very straightforward to draw lines from working in support teams to the things we talk about in UX design. And to how the experiences being an advocate for users means that this is less of a career change than it is a career expansion.
The work we’re doing at the moment can take us in many different directions. But one thing I’m sure of is that none of those directions will take me very far away from support in whatever form it ends up being. And either way, what I’ve learned in support is fundamental to how I approach anything I work on at this point.
As most other posts, this one is typed and published in one go, prioritizing publishing over editing. If any commas or full stops are missing feel free to mentally add as many as you like yourself 🙂