Monday, October 19, 2015

Skills and puzzles and work

Back in 2007, I applied for an Administrative Associate job at Google. All incoming Admin applicants had to take a test full of LSAT-style logic questions (in addition to a free-writing portion). At the time, I was confused, and assumed it was just something Google did because they were Google and liked testing people. They were big on metrics and applying math to people, and that was SO not my world and I thought it was ridiculous. But I wanted to work at Google. So I studied, and I prepped, and I took the test. I don't know what my exact results were, but I know I scored high enough to earn a coveted role as an "Eng Admin". That is, I was an Administrative Associate supporting a team of engineers (I had hoped for Google Books). Of course, at a company where Engineer is King, they told me that they "save their best Admins for the Engineers" (a nice ego boost, even though it's a ridiculous thing to say - and do).

Anyway, after only a few months working at Google, I learned the importance of that test. Scheduling meetings for the 7 busy executives I supported was like playing Tetris with calendars -- it was all about matchmaking and prioritization and contingencies. If I move this meeting to this spot, what will be affected? How can I maneuver things to get these 20 people in 4 time zones in one 30 minute meeting? If this guy can't make it, can I suggest changes to his own calendar to make room for my boss?

Similar challenges have come up at Disqus, most often when rearranging seating. As a small startup, we have to be nimble. When products or projects change, so change our teams. And teams work best when they can sit near each other, so sometimes we change the seating arrangement every quarter, if not more frequently! While we try to make things as minimally-disruptive as possible, sometimes what's best for productivity is a total overhaul. And when people work on more than one team, things can get a little complicated, and quickly! Not only do you have to consider how to place one specific team within the space in your office, you also have to consider the necessary proximity of each team to each other (for example, if specific people or entire teams work closely together - here's where the whole "people work on multiple teams" things can complicate your seating chart).

It's a lot of "if this, then that". It's like a puzzle, figuring out which pieces go where...but it's a puzzle where the pieces keep changing and there is no one right fit for each piece. It's a fun challenge, and a little bit of a crazy one, but I love it. There's something so satisfying about moving a bunch of pieces around, over and over, until you find the right combination. Especially satisfying if the people you're doing it for appreciate your time and talents :)

What are some skills you never thought you'd need? What did you realize you're good at, perhaps only after you realized how important it was?

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