The Life of a Radar

Community Management
02 Apr 2014

I've been the "Community Manager" for Spree for a couple of years now. It's a job where I answer user support requests wherever they happen: IM, email, IRC, Stack Overflow. I've been splitting this up with some development on Spree, building features like the new adjustments system whilst getting some great feedback about them from the community.

Over time, it's been getting busier and busier and I've ended up doing more "community management" and less programming and it's been burning me out. When I'm programming, I know that I'm working towards a goal. When I'm answering emails, there's always more emails to answer the next day. It just doesn't feel like progress is happening at all.

We've just passed our busiest time of the year. People have found Spree and want to either start using it, or port over from their existing ecommerce platform. These people generally start asking questions at the end of January and it quietens down around about now, picking up slightly in June (I don't know why, it just does) and the later months of the year due to Black Friday / Christmas / people wanting things done "Right Now Or Else" by the end of the year.

During this extremely busy phase, I've really dialed back on the programming part of my job and I've been dedicating most of my time to answering user support requests, mainly in the form of trying to keep my email inbox at an amount as close to zero as possible. The community benefits from this work because those people asking the questions get the support they need and they can continue on doing their own things. That's a great thing. When people are using something that I helped build and they like using it; that is one of the best feelings in the world. It's part of the reason why I've stayed here in this job longer than any other job I've had. It's also a pretty awesome team to work with.

After SpreeConf (26-27th Feb), I did an email inbox cull and still had 500+ emails to read through and reply to. This is part of my job, and it seemed overwhelming. I was occassionally grumpy and short with my words. It's only last week -- a whole month later -- that I was able to get this inbox number down to less than 50. As I write this now, it sits at almost 200.

But there's a legitimate reason for that. For the past two days I've been doing exclusively programming work. I closed Airmail and worked for two days in Sublime Text, iTerm and Chrome. It felt glorious. It felt like progress.

Last Friday at approximately 4:40pm my time and ridiculous o' clock (1:40am) in DC, Sean passed on a message from one of our clients who said something to the effect that Magento's order interface in the admin backend was better than Spree's order interface. Now, there's not many things Magento is better at than Spree, but this is (supposedly) one of them. I agreed whole-heartedly with the message, but it was 4:40pm on a Friday and I was thinking/dreaming of the weekend.

I've personally been wanting to change the admin backend for quite a while. It doesn't adjust itself depending on the order's checkout steps, which is a feature that we implemented about 6 major Spree releases. It just hasn't been that important to work on as other things have been.

This little comment ate at me all weekend. How could we be worse than Magento at something? Was that even possible? Yes, it was. The order interface reloaded the entire page after every single change and it was infuriating. It felt sluggish. Creating an order in Spree's admin backend shouldn't be tedious, it should be fast.

Here's a video of the admin order interface

So on Monday I worked on improving this. I rewrote templates from ERB to Underscore templates. I converted some JavaScript code that was defining top- level functions into some CoffeeScript+Backbone code that defined those functions as proper events within Backbone views.

I made it fast. Here's a video of the new admin order interface

This felt like progress, because it is progress. I'm improving something within Spree rather than answering emails, and I feel really good about it.

So what I'm going to be doing now is devoting at least a day a week to purely coding on Spree. All the emails can wait an extra day. Hopefully those emails will be answered by someone else.

You can see the code for these recent changes over on my new-order-interface branch.

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