Angry Creative is a people business, so we thought it’d be a nice idea to showcase some of the awesome people that work at Angry Creative and let them tell you about themselves and their experiences here.
I (David Lockie, Angry’s CMO) picked Tom as our guinea pig because I’ve known him for ages and could trust him to be gentle!
David Lockie: So Tom, how did you end up working in tech?
I have always tinkered around with computers and launched my first website when I was in secondary school when Dreamweaver was the tool. It was basically Facebook.
DL: Hang on! You invented Facebook?
Basically! People could submit photos of themselves doing a funny lunge stance and then viewers could give them a score out of ten. That was taken down by the school pretty quickly so after that I stuck to tinkering and playing around with websites through the dotcom boom and just stayed interested in the scene.
I’d ended up working on environmental campaigning, where I met a young charming chap called David Lockie, who introduced me to WordPress. I quickly broke everything, and tried to install too many plugins and basically do what every first time WordPress user or administrator does, which is realise that you can blow up a site quite quickly! That was in 2010, and I followed WordPress and its development for years to come and that ended up in a job at Pragmatic. [Note: Pragmatic was acquired by Angry Creative in July 2020]
DL: I remember the conversation being about a few weeks, basically, between first pitch and the idea of joining Pragmatic and then you coming on board.
Yes, because I’d been working at the University of Brighton, who had WordPress sites but also had Expression Engine sites, and I was getting phenomenally frustrated. I knew what you could do with WordPress. And that was 2013. And obviously, WordPress has come a long way, even since those 2010 days. So then the opportunities to work with WordPress and a great team was an easy one to take.
DL: You wore many hats at Pragmatic! You were a developer, then a project manager and account manager, and then you moved into the people ops role so when did you first realise that you were more keen to work with the people in tech than to do the tech yourself?
So, I’d worked on a number of projects for different clients, and with different teams at Pragmatic. It’s the typical startup environment, where you adapt and you take on different roles, but then you gravitate towards certain areas. I found the people management side of things had the best balance between challenging and rewarding for me.
I was doing a bit of self analysis and thinking okay “What does the future hold for me?”. After a couple of years in the business I saw an opportunity there to work with managers who had challenging people situations. That’s something I naturally gravitate towards and liked the idea of being able to mediate and try and understand what makes people tick.
I remember when we were first sort of thinking about this role. I had to pitch it quite hard to the board. I’ve really, really enjoyed the role ever since, and it’s opened up lots of opportunities for learning for myself as well. You know we always hear about how AI and new advances in tech are going to take over people’s jobs, but I feel like the bit that’s not going to change is the fact that whatever product is made ends up in the hands of people.
Relationships and communication is going to be even more important because we’ve got to actually break away from our screens, and interact with people. So people focused roles need to encourage skill development around emotional intelligence, empathy, and understanding each other. And it’s important that we don’t forget that and let being good humans become a dying art.
Since going remote, I feel like it’s even more important to put value on that stuff. We’ve been practising remote work for a long time, but not being able to meet up as frequently when you want to that’s a difference in culture we’ve had to adapt to, and I feel like the familiarity that you get from working very closely in an office is really hard to build in a remote way. But that’s the work that needs to be done and it’s what I love about my role through these COVID years.
DL: Let’s switch gears. So we merged with Angry Creative over a year ago now. What have you most enjoyed about the change?
It’s really simple. For me it’s internationalisation. To work with people from different cultures, different backgrounds, different experiences, seeing the different approaches and styles of working and styles of thinking, which is coming into play, is just amazing to see.
If you’re working with people all from the same area, all in a small room, or with very similar life experiences, you’re going to come up with pretty standard responses to things. And we’re now working across multiple continents. We’re interviewing a chap from Sri Lanka this morning, and so we have developed the ability to be much more open and inclusive and accessible. It has been phenomenal to see and experience. And I think in the last few months we’ve really seen that impact with the new team members we’ve brought in. It’s just incredible, the energy and enthusiasm we’re seeing. So that’s been the main thing for me that I feel like we’re part of a global community now, which is just amazing.
DL: Yeah, that’s cool. So tell me, like what’s a typical day in the life of Tom?
So the typical day in life starts off early and I’m an early bird…
DL: That surprises me because you’re also quite a late bird!
Yeah, basically a sort of weird owl/lark, some sort of hybrid! But, getting up early, getting down to the gym, and having a bit of personal time before work kicks off is so important and getting sort of in the right frame of mind.
DL: So you live, you live in Portugal now is that like an indoor gym or an outdoor gym?
One of the things that was really important in my decision to move here was the fact that you have a longer outdoor season, so hopefully, it’ll go on through to November. But you get to be in touch with nature because for the rest of the day you’re behind the computer screen. It’s so important to start the day like that for me. And then checking in with the international team, as people come online in earlier time zones.
DL: By checking in, do you mean proactively contacting folks, or just answering inbound?
I’m definitely proactive, especially with the very small team that I work in. We definitely try and create a culture of “I speak to you proactively, not just when I need something.” Then typically check-in on ongoing “open issues”. When people have raised something, I’ll spend some time going back over messages, and drop them a line to say, “We solved that issue but how are you doing?” a couple of weeks later to make sure everything has landed well. I try to get all my meetings done in the morning.
DL: So, you’ve got lots of things and people you need to keep track of. How do you organise yourself with that? How do you remember to check in with somebody? Is it just something that you naturally do or do you have a todo list?
I’m a big slack reminder person and have loads of reminders firing off throughout the day. I find it useful because we’re always in Slack, trying to keep things in there helps to keep context, rather than having a separate tool.
Then I split the rest of the day into essential small tasks and a bit of focus-time on projects. I tend to have a bit of a lull around 14:30, which is quite typical in the Mediterranean! I then pick stuff up in the late afternoon and early evening.
DL: That makes sense. You talked about projects: can you give me an example of a project that you’re working on or one that you finished recently or one you’ve got in the works?
The projects that we run in people operations are linked to employee experience strategy and values of Angry Creative so we listen to what the employees are saying, through retros, surveys, and feedback from managers; we put together projects, and solutions that tackle those issues.
So an example of that might be: people are feeding back that they don’t have enough time for educational activities. We will then plan out a schedule of activities for the year. And then it will be putting together content and planning those activities, and making sure that programme ties into the core business strategy: looking at what needs or skills gaps there are, or making sure we’re keeping everyone motivated and engaged.
DL: Nice. Sounds like a lot to juggle.
The thing with it is that you can spend all day on the tactical stuff, the day-to-day stuff, the hygiene stuff. But we need to also make time for projects that will make Angry Creative an exceptional place to work. That involves carving out time for the bigger picture, strategic projects. We’ve always got the battle of time.
Time is the most precious thing in the business. And so we, the People Ops team, have got to find ways of showing that the work we’re doing has an impact on people, and what that means in terms of staff retention and keeping people happy and productive. That’s the biggest challenge we have; making sure we can get enough time for activities and also making sure that they’re actually effective and impactful. We don’t always hit the mark. That can be projects that in theory sound amazing, but in reality, we get really low engagement. So, it’s important to take the time to assess what’s worked, what hasn’t, what opportunities we have to learn.
DL: So, what excites you the most? If you had a perfect day and something happened, or you got to work on something, what would that sort of peak work experience look like for you?
I love the idea of tackling issues in collaborative ways. So, if we have a big picture target we want to achieve as an agency, I would love a day of really fast prototyping as an approach to that. So, workshops, understanding what the actual issues are, doing empathy workshops with this team, and bringing together ideas and ways we can achieve those targets. That sort of stuff is really great and, I love that because it’s got just enough workshop time but then also getting down and actually producing something at the end.
DL: So, a day of collaborative problem solving.
Yeah, but ending up with something that’s tangible, because often with HR, what comes out of workshops can be sort of wishy-washy. I like design thinking where you actually end up with prototypes that you can test, and things that can be used rather than just a list of actions. We’re a team of techie people, we’re all people that use products so those should be the kind of things we should end up with. Making those same methodologies work I think makes a lot of sense.
DL: Throughout your time at Pragmatic and Angry, what’s one thing or a couple of key things that maybe you didn’t expect to learn or weren’t on your radar or have just been sort of really ongoing challenges for you that you kind of expected but didn’t anticipate the complexity of.
The biggest complexity is people. No matter how hard the technical problem is, there’s always gonna be some sort of solution to it. Whereas with people, the solutions and the complexities are endless. The biggest learning has been that everyone responds to different things in a different way. So what you think might be an amazing idea could be perceived as awful, or vice versa, you might think something’s really going to go badly and ends up going really, really well.
You can never really predict. You can plan and you can strategize but how people actually respond is still pretty chaotic. And with that, you’ve got everyone in different stages of career, different stages of life, different stages of happiness at any moment. Therefore, if your policies and processes are too generic, or one-size-fits-all, you’re going to get mixed engagement.
The other thing is, once people have gone into that danger zone, which is where they’ve felt too much not go their way, it’s really hard to win them back. And it takes a lot of time, effort and amazing management to win people back. So actually, when thinking about budgets for people projects, it’s all pennies when you think about how long it takes to actually win someone back once they’ve gone past that point of no return. And it is very, very hard to get someone back from that.
DL: Just like client relationships?
Yeah exactly, or any kind of relationship. Exactly. You see, it takes time to build stuff up but it’s very easy to break it.
DL: The last question I’ve got is if somebody is interested to work with us on the team as a client as a partner, what message would you like to give them?
Okay. So, I think it’s really important to accurately reflect what is going on in the business and with the teams and people because the last thing you want to do is have misaligned expectations. So when I’m talking to potential new members of the team, I talk about us. We’re working with a global team for the first time. And what you’ll see is that we recruit people that bring energy, enthusiasm, and a positive, constructive mindset. And that means you’ll get people actively trying to welcome you and engage you in the business whether you’re a client or the new starter.
If you present a problem or challenge you’ve got, you’ll get a few people trying to solve it for you, very quickly. And that’s an amazing thing to have. And even in this remote world when you’ve got hundreds of miles in between people. You’ve got people who will, you know, even after week one, day one, they’ll be jumping in, to help and contribute. I think that’s because we hire people of all levels and career stages, and different backgrounds.
We don’t just hire people who have been in the WordPress community for 20 years, we’ve hired people who’ve been in different settings and can bring different things to the business, and they want to. Hopefully, you find a place where that kind of, you know, learning and growth and partnership approaches are fostered and held in the highest regard.
DL: great Tom, thanks for sharing!
If you’re the kind of person who wants to work with a WooCommerce-focused company that invests in people, please do find out more and get in touch!