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About Kristin

Not to be trusted with Cheetos or blueberries.

One of Basecamp's Water Coolers is a chatroom dedicated to pets

Kristin wrote this on 8 comments

As you can see from Dan’s post, lots of us are animal lovers. Back when I lived in Chicago, a few of us would take turns hosting a workday that we would call “Bring Your Work to [Pet’s Name] Day.”

When Ann, Sam, and Trevor came to my apartment for “Bring Your Work to Clementine Horsetooth Day,” we worked from my couch and enjoyed the occasional interruption by Clementine, my elderly Siamese cat. She strutted around flirting with the newcomers: stretching and yawning and shaking her tail. At “Bring Your Work to Hector Day,” a bunch of us holed up in Sam’s loft with his sweet tabby and ordered a ton of Indian food. After work, a few of us got drinks at the Skylark before heading home to our own pets.

Online, we got to know everyone else’s pets from our Campfire room, All Pets. All Pets is a place to blow off steam, to take a break from work, and to connect with coworkers who may live on another continent.

And so, when Clementine died last November I knew my coworkers would be supportive, but I didn’t realize how much so. Not only did our office manager, Andrea, send flowers on behalf of the entire company, but I also received a whiplash of IMs from many people expressing their love and support. Ann (who doubles as World’s Best Catsitter for many Basecats) was especially supportive, in part because she had recently gone through the loss of her own Basecats. And then, a week after Clementine’s death, I received a condolence package from Berliner Natalie containing this amazingly succinct mug.

When I think of the average office dynamic, I don’t think of this kind of camaraderie. Maybe it’s because our figurative water cooler is a silent, opt-in chat room filled with adorable animals that we’re able to connect more earnestly than if we were at a literal cooler. Maybe it’s because we’re all abnormally obsessed with animals, but All Pets isn’t our only Water Cooler. There’s All Parents, All Nerds, All Comics & Movies, among others. Nonetheless, there’s nothing at Basecamp, not even an ocean or two, that keeps us isolated from one another.

In Memory of all the pets we lost at Basecamp.

How we achieved 24/7 support without compromising our culture (too much)

Kristin wrote this on 5 comments

It’s been a big year for our support team here at Basecamp, as Noah wrote last week. We’ve gone through lots of change and added several more people to the team.

Back in 2012, a few of us began working swing shifts to help clear the queue for the morning staff. Emily also started working Sundays to make Monday easier on the team and clear out some older cases from Friday night and Saturday. While the majority of our emails come in during traditional US business hours, we all know that work doesn’t necessarily happen between nine and five (for example, I’m writing this at 9pm PST). When we saw how well the Sunday and swing-shifts worked, we hired Jim to answer emails in Manchester, UK. That covered our butts from 2am-9pm CST, leaving only 5 hours of unanswered emails Monday through Friday. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but five hours can feel like an eternity if you’re locked out of your account or have a worrisome billing question. Shortly after we hired Jim, we decided to grow the team to include Natalie in Berlin and Chris, also in Manchester.

Fast forward six months to a few weeks after we launched our phone verification feature, when DHH was traveling and didn’t have cell reception on a Saturday. He was essentially locked out of his own app. Saturday, however, was the one day we didn’t have someone answering support emails. When DHH couldn’t log in to Basecamp on a Saturday in a timezone far from HQ, he felt the pain lots of our customers have felt. We decided to make a change to how support works.

I wanted to hire four new people to cover the world around, but DHH wanted me to hire no one and finagle the schedule with our existing staff [insert trollface here]. We settled on a compromise: If we hired four newbies, then we had to also implement phone support, such that we wouldn’t just have a big surge in employees (from 8 to 12: a 50% increase) without also expanding the scope of work. We opened four new positions: US Saturday-Wednesday, EU Saturday-Wednesday, Asia/Pacific Monday-Friday, and Asia/Pacific Saturday-Wednesday. While we searched for these four candidates, the existing team took turns trading one full day of work for a 4-hour Saturday shift. After an exhaustive search, we found our newbies: JorDanée in Florida, James in Berlin, Tony in Sydney, and Sylvia in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Noah, our self-described (and self-deprecating) Data Monkey, built a simple call-back platform for our Support page. We started slowly and worked through a lot of in-house anxiety and assumptions around phone support: people get angry, people interrupt, people express frustration more easily, people yell. At first, Noah and I were the only people taking calls, and the call option was only available to account owners and administrators. Then, the rest of the team joined us. We started opening the call-back option to more and more users. Now, any logged-in user has the option to request a call from us Monday through Friday from 5am until 5pm CST, with the occasional wee hour and weekend option. (For the record, our users are as sweet as freshly grated palm sugar and super happy that we call them back within a couple of minutes, so that in-house anxiety has mostly subsided.)

You can check out Noah’s comprehensive summary of the support stats here, but I’d like to point out some stats to celebrate. We made a huge dent in email-response times this year, with the median time to response across the entire year falling to three minutes. For comparison, back in 2011 and 2012 our median response time for email cases was over two hours. Additionally, we’re now answering emails on weekends within six minutes on average, whereas customers would wait upwards of eight hours for a response before 24/7 email was implemented. In our first year of phone support, we averaged about 250 calls per month despite having millions of customers. The median call-back time is under three minutes.

Not a call center.

Many of us have been working together for nearly four years now, so we’re a close-knit group of diverse weirdos. The major anxieties that cropped up during these proposed changes were based in the fear of culture shifts; we did not want to lose the senses of freedom or autonomy that come along with remote work, and growing the team 50% meant introducing more (potentially not weirdo) people to our existing, comfortable culture. Every time you introduce a new person to a culture, the culture shifts a bit. While we’re happy to include more people on our team, we also know that we want to remain relatively small.

The biggest cultural shift was with phone support. We were a team used to writing emails to customers all day, not speaking with them on the phone. We all identify as writers and introverts, so the idea that we’d have to speak to people on the phone felt icky. There were lots of “I was hired to write, not to speak” and “I’m not comfortable on the phone” and “I refuse to work at a call center.” Once everyone started taking calls, those anxieties wore away for most of the team. (I now compare talking on the phone with my days teaching university English: it’s all a performance.) Yet, we still had to navigate working with people in a new, real-time format. People are complicated. They do get mad, interrupt, and yell. Those calls are hard. They make us feel helpless in a position where we’re meant to be helpful. After a rough call or email, our team is still here to support each other. We encourage each other to debrief those rough interactions and step away from work for a few minutes.

Phone support also inhibits some freedoms of remote work. While many of us work from our homes, there are times when we get stir crazy and want to venture off to a coffeeshop to work. We all know that it’s rude to take calls at a coffeeshop, so we cover for each other if someone wants to get out of the house just like we would if someone were sick or on vacation or having an off-day. A huge part of working a customer support job is supporting each other, and we’re getting better and better at that with each new challenge we introduce to our workflow.

We may still be a small team, but our culture has grown significantly this year. From a Jiu-jitsu’ing cat lover in Oregon, to a working Paleo mom who likes to #liveriveted, to a car-obsessed deadlifting vegemite-eating Aussie – we know that our small team still means everyone knows each other, gets each other’s jokes, understands each other’s work ethics, and most of all, trusts each other wholeheartedly.

Customer Support Needed in Asia or Australia!

Kristin wrote this on 11 comments

We’re looking for another support team member! Specifically, we’re seeking a native English speaker in Asian or Australian timezones, so our local customers there don’t have to wait until the sun rises in the UK for help.
You’ll be responsible for providing tremendous customer service via email for Basecamp, Basecamp Classic, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire. You’ll also help us answer questions via Twitter, create and edit help documentation, and maybe run some online classes.
You’ll be expected to answer about 75 emails per day once you’re fully up to speed (2-3 months or thereabouts). This is a significant volume, so be sure that you’re ready and able to deal with that kind of daily load — you’ll get all the love and help you need along the way!
We’re looking for some great writers who love helping our customers, so you should enjoy making complicated situations simple and painless and have a passion for our products.
If you want to join Chase, Chris, Emily, Jim, Joan, Kristin, Merissa, and Natalie in making our customers happy, please apply!
How to apply
Please submit a cover letter explaining:
1. Why you want to work in customer support.
2. Why you want to work at 37signals and not somewhere else.
3. A description of a great customer service/support experience you had recently, and what made it great.

Also, pick three of the questions from customers below and answer them like you would if you worked here:
1. Does the new Basecamp offer time tracking?
2. Is the new Basecamp offered in any other language besides English?
3. I’m interested in your products, but not sure which one is right for me. What’s the difference between Highrise and Basecamp?
4. I’ve been a Basecamp Classic user for years and see you have a new version. What’s the difference between the versions, and why should I switch?
5. Is there a reporting function in the new Basecamp?

We offer heaps of lovely benefits, plus a progressive work environment. Starting salary is $45k USD, depending on experience.
Email everything to [email protected]. Include “Customer Support” in the subject line. If you’re attaching a resume, please send it as a PDF. We look favorably on people who get creative with their applications. Note: This is not a position for designers/programmers who are looking to work their way into another job at 37signals; we are solely looking for someone interested in and dedicated to support.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Becoming remote

Kristin wrote this on 18 comments

Before working at 37signals, I worked as a florist, a barista, an education intern at a theatre company, and a university instructor. I was happy at all my previous jobs, but the culture at 37signals got me. And I got it. During my interview with Jason, my main concern was whether or not everyone at 37signals enjoyed each other’s company. We all spend more time with our coworkers than our friends, so it’s important that we appreciate and respect each other. By the time I purchased and wore a horse mask at the office, I knew we had all clicked.

I lived in or around Chicago nearly my whole life. With a lifetime of friends and a network of artists and writers, it seemed like the best place for me. I could meet friends at the Art Institute garden for lunch and head back to 37signals HQ in time finish up my day’s work. The Garfield Park Conservatory was a short bike ride away in the summer or a bus ride away in the winter. It was idyllic city life.

Then, something changed — I needed a cultural shift. My parents left Chicago a decade earlier and my brother was about to move to St. Louis to be closer to his wife’s family. Family wasn’t holding me to the city anymore, and I moved back to Chicago after grad school because I had always imagined Chicago as my home.

37signals wasn’t holding me to Chicago either; I’ve worked from Kansas, Berlin, South Carolina, San Francisco, New York, Portland, Austin, Colorado, and a train to and from Ann Arbor.

By the time I told Jason that I wanted to move to Portland, he already knew. I had spent two months in Oregon working during the day and exploring on my time off. I went to Astoria and watched sea lions as they barked at each other like the sad and soulful creatures they are. I annoyingly screamed, “HEY YOU GUUUUUUUYS!” at Haystack Rock. I camped in total darkness underneath all the stars on Saddle Mountain. I stayed at the Sou’wester Lodge, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the coast.

Jason gave me the +1 in November and I moved to Portland at the end of January. While I miss seeing my Chicago colleagues every week, I’m more productive and happier where I am now. That newfound happiness and productivity helped me create a space conducive to my midwestern work ethic.

This is an example of the kind of personal freedom remote working allows. When I needed a cultural shift in my personal life, I didn’t have to leave the job that I love. 37signals granted me the freedom to live my life where I want, as long as I agree to visit Chicago every few months. In just a few days, I’ll go back to Chicago for a company-wide meet-up. It’ll be my first time working from the office since I left. I can’t wait to reunite with the horse mask.

Basecamp via Chrome Frame

Kristin wrote this on 14 comments

When we were building the new Basecamp, we wanted the foundation to be built on clean, modern underpinnings to take advantage of all the new wonderful features of HTML5. That meant we have to drop support for older browsers, like IE8, that have little or poor support for the HTML5 technology we are using to make Basecamp awesome for everyone.

But, have no fear! We realize that a lot of people are stuck with IE8 (sometimes even IE7 or, yikes, 6), so we made sure that Chrome Frame works with Basecamp. Chrome Frame is available for IE 6-9 on Windows machines and can usually be installed without admin access.

If you’re stuck with an older version of Explorer, check out Chrome Frame and get yourself a Basecamp account.

On Poetry & Programming

Kristin wrote this on 23 comments

I’m a poet, lover of literature, and budding Ruby student. Even as a lover of language, I never thought to explore computer language as a way to enhance my knowledge and appreciation… until I started working here. In writing code, you face similar obstructions as you do in poetry: context, line breaks, stanzas, even word-choice.

As I revise and revise a program I’ve been working on, I realize how the content of the program dictates the form, just like in poetry. A stanza and a block of code are both rooms within the larger piece. Indentation can be used as a way to signal a change (in tone, movement, concept) to the reader in both a poem and a program.

Look at these screenshots: one is part of a Ruby program and one is a contemporary poem. It’s hard to tell the difference!

I think it’s possible to compare the arc of a program to the dramatic structure of a piece of literature, like Freytag’s triangle. (Although, that’s another post entirely…)

How else do you see form across languages and genres?