One of my first jobs in IT was as a “computer consultant” for my university. I got to learn a lot about computers of various kinds (including currently useless but still formative bits like writing REXX programs on a CP/CMS IBM 3090 mainframe), and, more importantly, I learned a lot about what it takes to really help people solve computer problems. We had all the kinds of users you’d expect in a decent-sized community: haughty faculty (and haughtier grad students, for some reason), who absolutely demanded that you stop whatever you were doing to help them fix their margins <em>right now</em>. We had to mediate between first-year students lost and confused in their first exposure to the net, and technical staff who were straining under the onslaught of the first week of classes.
Still, it was a lot of fun — we had autonomy to decide what problems were worthy of paper handouts, to hand out as answers to FAQs — we had special accounts with free access to the high-resolution printers — but most of all, we had lots of interactions daily with people who were truly grateful for the help we provided. Not all interactions were positive, but the vast majority of them were. There was a real community between the student staff, the full-time staff, and the avid users who spent their days in the computer center working on their papers, homework, and assignments.
These memories come back as we’re now looking for someone to help coordinate Thunderbird’s technical support communities. The challenge is orders of magnitude harder, but the opportunities to help are equally huge.
It’s become clear to me that this job is fairly unique, both in scope, and in what we’re looking for. The right candidate will have a rare blend of empathy & technical knowledge, clear organization skills. She or he must have the ability to bring people off the ledge, recognize and encourage peer leaders, but also know how to deal with poisonous people. This requires both clarity of thought and clear, efficient expression. Our ideal candidate knows Thunderbird well, but most importantly can understand both the requirements of providing technical support for hugely diverse populations of users, who often come for help when they have critical issues that are often caused by external actors like email providers. A hard job to fill.
A big part of the job is also to understand the existing bits of the existing world of Thunderbird support, and figure out ways of connecting the bits that work, and building new bits if needed. From where I’m standing, this ecosystem includes forums like mozillazine, which have garnered huge numbers of posts with very valuable information, but which don’t necessarily provide the best experience for novices. It also includes the GetSatisfaction forums, which provide a lower barrier-to-entry for many users, but which are still in their infancy, both in terms of content and in terms of people providing answers. The ecosystem also importantly includes SUMO, which right now is focused on Firefox, but which could hopefully be deployed for Thunderbird use someday. A comprehensive solution also likely involves figuring out how to help people over Twitter, on Facebook, or wherever Thunderbird users are likely to look for answers or express frustrations. Whoever gets this job will end up diving deep into the world of Mozilla support overall, and learn from all of the people who’ve built those foundations — then build upon them.
As the central point of contact for support issues, this person will be incredibly helpful in working with the QA and dev teams to prioritize bugs and other issues, so that the next revisions of Thunderbird or Thunderbird websites work better for more people. Finally, it would be great to coordinate with the support micro-communities that exist around the world. In general, the job is clear: help people with Thunderbird, and help people help each other.
If this sounds like you, send us an email, explaining why you’re the right person for the job.