From 2019 to the end of 2021, I created and scaled our Support Engineering team at Finix. These were fun and trying times during the peak of the pandemic. I wrote this piece as a reflection and to memorialize my highlights and lessons learned.
It was a unique and privileged opportunity to hire, train, and mentor the different Support Engineers that joined Finix. I’m forever grateful for the team we built and all the hard work we accomplished.
What is Support Engineering?
Support Engineering is different in every company, but a few things are usually consistent across companies:
- Highly technical support team
- Incident Response
- Get sh*t done group for customers
A support engineer usually spends their day looking at technical problems asked by customers or pre-emptively based on alarms. Questions can range from integration related to a specific question about a scenario that may require hours of research.
What tools do Support Engineers use to solve problems?
Zendesk is usually the tool companies use to track tickets from customers coming in. Freshdesk is also a great alternative.
Internally, Support teams can use Jira to keep track of items asked by other teams that don’t come in via support tickets. It’s essential to have tickets to keep track of these items at scale.
Looking at logs
Scalyr or Datadog are common tools companies can use to dig into logs or exceptions that might have occurred.
Looking at Data
Data analysis differs heavily across companies and startups. From raw SQL to complex data warehouses, the breadth of options is vast and mainly tailored to the current data stack of the startup.
How does Support Engineering differ across phases of a Startup?
In the Seed stage, Support Engineering teams are mainly working on supporting a handful of accounts in Enterprise software. The team is small, and everyone is intimately aware of each other’s work.
Scale problems start to emerge in the Series A stage. You have more customers integrating and have to streamline our internal support systems. Series A is where a team becomes a department.
Scale and scope start to increase in the Series B Stage. A big part of the phase requires clearly defining roles and responsibilities between and within department groups. Everything is about getting the company ready for explosive growth or hyper-scale
I led the team from the Seed to the Series B stage. Once we started scaling, the leadership team and I decided to recruit externally and bring in our talented new Director of Support Engineering, Song Chin, to scale the team.
1. Mentoring and growing Careers
Mentoring and growing the careers of my reports is my biggest highlight from leading Support Engineering. Some of my past reports have transitioned to Product Management, Engineering, and DevOps, which fills me with joy that I contributed positively to their career.
In addition, our team had a diverse background that inspired me every day. For example, we had someone for whom Support Engineering was their first full-time role at 19 to a seasoned teacher looking to transition into tech after a boot camp. I sought for a 50/50 gender ratio and was able to accomplish that goal for most of my tenure.
2. Getting to know customers really well
Part of the fun of the early days of Finix for me was getting super close to our customers. Getting to know their day-to-day life, pain points, and visions has made me better in my new product role.
3. Doing a little bit of everything
Being a support engineer is doing a little bit of everything. From helping customers work through a problem not directly caused by your software to teaching other teams about payments, you do a little bit of everything. No other role has the span of Support Engineering, especially in the Seed and Series A stage.
1. Investing more in processes
A big part of leading a team is administrating and optimizing the team’s tools. For us, that was mainly Zendesk and Jira. While I am very familiar with a great Jira workflow, Zendesk was something new to me. During the pandemic, tooling was extremely important as we went fully remote.
If I could go back in time, I would’ve found a mentor in Support Engineering at another company to help me design a thoughtful Zendesk deployment at scale. I never really saw what a good Zendesk workflow looks like, so I was flying blind.
2. First time manager pitfalls
I fell into some of the classical pitfalls of a first-time manager during my tenure. Defining clear roles and responsibilities, managing up, and holding everyone to performance standards were some of my earlier challenges as a manager.
Luckily, Finix took the time and investment to pair me with a fantastic Executive Coach. Steve Schreck coached through some of my first time manager problems and directed my attention on areas to grow and improve.
3. Not building tiered Support
To provide the best customer experience, I should’ve created a small non-technical support team that only worked on incoming tickets and triaged them to the right tier of Support. This would have provided faster ticket close times and resulted in a more efficient team.