Why We Use On-Call Shadowing On-call shadowing is an essential practice at PagerDuty. For a new engineer, a shadowing period serves as a kinder, smoother...by Max Timchenko
March 26, 2019
Zayna Shahzad is a Software Engineer at PagerDuty on the Mobile Team. She works on the Android and iOS PagerDuty apps offered through the App Store and Play Store. In this post, she shares her experience shadowing our Customer Support team. Finder her on Github and Twitter.
One of our core values as a company has always been to learn from and teach others. We pride ourselves on building a product on empathy for customers and our coworkers.
In the midst of story-pointing, JIRA-ticket-writing, interviewing, and road mapping, sometimes it’s difficult to remember the things that make PagerDuty special — the people we have and the culture we’ve built!
So, with these values in mind, I set out on a mission to answer some questions:
The answers to these questions led me to our award-winning Customer Support team.
It started out with an informal ping to a couple of folks on Customer Support to say, “hey, would you mind if I shadowed for the day…”. In no time, I was given access to Zendesk, set up with the power to interact with our customers, and put on-call. (More on this later…)
The day of shadowing was an eye-opener. I came in around the same time as the person I was going to shadow — my “buddy” who would answer all my questions throughout the day, eat lunch with and grab a coffee with me. I would liken the feeling of shadowing in a team (other than my own) to the first day of elementary school, where you’re afraid no one will eat lunch with you and you will make no new friends. It was kind of like that, so having a buddy there made me everything much easier.
I was invited to the secret support channel in Slack and went on the “assigner” on-call schedule for 2 hours. An “assigner” is the person who watches the Zendesk ticket queue and picks up support tickets during business hours.
Some observations and interesting parts of my day:
Aside from my general observations throughout the day, I walked away with a few interesting learnings about the customer support team:
In about 8 hours, I got to see the many sides of customer support. I recommend the experience to anyone who has been with a company for several months and has never ventured out of their immediate teams and codebases.
In case you end up doing the same thing and shadowing someone on another team, here are some tips from my experience:
We haven’t always brought in other departments to shadow in the same way that Zayna experienced. In the past, many new hires had onboarding checklist items to shadow support for an hour or two, during which I would basically walk them through who we are, what we do, and they would look over an agent’s shoulder for the remaining time. This presented a few problems:
The idea to change this came after our internal Company Kick-Off in San Francisco. We had a problem facing us before this event: it was unprecedented for PagerDuty Support (but not for support teams in our space) to take a full day or really any significant amount of time away from our core responsibilities of helping customers. After all, the nature of our product is pretty sensitive and this team has set a standard of reliability and timeliness that goes hand in hand with what PagerDuty is.
The Support Team doesn’t have off-sites for this very reason, and even at past company picnics, we took a mifi and our laptops with us and rotated the responsibility of having one or two reps sitting at a table answering tickets while others frolicked in the grass.
Company Kick-Off was different as it was mandatory participation, so I initially reached out to one of our cofounders — the original support guy — to see if he’d be interested in stepping back in for a day (he was based out of Toronto). He one-upped me and offered to not only help but to pull together a crew of other Toronto-based employees in Product and Engineering to help. I jumped at the chance and he quickly got a group together for the opportunity to get to know our customers really really well for a day.
The group went through similar prep to the one Zayna had, at a larger scale with several members of the team acting as resources, and took over answering of tickets through Zendesk for the full day (we added messages to our support site and our auto-responders for the day to note that the team was out and responses may be delayed just in case). We were a little nervous about handing over our responsibilities for the day. However, the crew of substitutes did an amazing job of working together to answer customer queries and looping us in via Slack whenever they got stuck. Many folks who participated in this exercise had great feedback that demonstrated how valuable they found the experience in terms of empathizing with both our customers and their colleagues on the Support team:
Empathy is huge here at PagerDuty, it’s baked into our DNA. We encourage everyone to step outside of their comfort zone and learn about what your colleagues do by stepping into their shoes — you might get a new appreciation for them!