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Simon Owens

A Day in the Life @ Cobalt – Support

For about as long as he can remember, David Rothschild has enjoyed solving puzzles. “It started with crossword and logic puzzles,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I had the kind of parents who wouldn’t get me a GI Joe, they’d get me an Erector Set. The first car I ever had I got when I was 14; I spent $400 on it and it didn’t work. My parents told me I had to get it to work before I could drive it.” In college, Rothschild focused on filmmaking, and because his professors had been slow to switch over from film to digital, he had to learn the technology — both the hardware and software — on his own. “My university ended up hiring me as an assistant professor even though I didn’t even have my undergraduate degree yet.”

So it surprised no one who knew him that Rothschild carried his penchant for puzzles over into his career. He started out in Apple retail, leading training for customers on how to use Apple products. But eventually this got too easy. “For consumer level products, there’s a limit to how much you can configure the software,” he said. “They kind of cut down the number of ways you can shoot yourself in the foot so they can cut down on the support they have to offer. As soon as it gets easy, you’re just basically clocking a paycheck at that time. You’re no longer solving a puzzle.”

And that’s how Rothschild found himself working in enterprise software, specifically as Cobalt’s software support lead. Unlike consumer technology, which limits customization, enterprise software offers near limitless configuration, and therefore a limitless array of puzzles. “You can’t deliver a piece of [enterprise] software and say, ‘This is how it works, you need to change your business to accommodate it,’” he explained. “The software needs to change to accommodate the business, and with that higher degree of entropy, the greater the chaos that can happen because you can’t test every variation. You have to discover problems you didn’t even know could be a problem and find a solution as opposed to referring to a list of frequently asked questions and always finding it’s answer A or B.”

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If you’d like more information on what it’s like to work with
Cobalt, you can reivew our What to Expect section.

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Now, there’s hardly a week when Rothschild doesn’t encounter a problem he’s never seen before.  We sat down with him to get a better understanding of what it’s like to lead a support team that’s interfacing with dozens of association clients at a time, each coming to Cobalt with a new puzzle to solve.

On how Rothschild splits his time:

I spend about a third of my time dealing directly with clients, commenting in tickets or using WebEx and phone calls to address their issues. Another third I spend managing the team and focusing its priorities. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is too large of a product to get everything between the ears and totally memorized, so a lot of times I just bounce around from desk to desk to the different people on my team. They have plenty of questions and I try to answer them or direct them to someone who can. And then the final third is helping the team not get distracted by the other things we support, like invoicing the client, monitoring the metrics of our support tickets system, and figuring out when we need more resources and when we don’t.

On how his team handles the influx of support requests:

They come in via a ticketing system where they can forward an email to a particular address, and then that becomes a support ticket. It usually starts as a question that starts bouncing around the client’s office, and when nobody can solve it, then it gets forwarded to us. If it’s a critical problem, like a server having issues, then usually the client picks up the phone and calls, and the call is then recorded in a new ticket.

Once the ticket comes in, it’s up to the support team to figure out if we have enough information to solve it. The first thing we do is try to recreate their problem. If they have an error on their screen, we see if we can reproduce the same error on our screen.  We also need to figure out a way to test our solution so we’ll know if it’s been properly implemented. We’ll make a test record, which means we find an existing record in the system that we can use as a guinea pig and test once we do things differently, and then we go through the real fun part, and that’s trying to solve the puzzle. Sometimes the things they come to us with have never been asked to us before. They’ll say, ‘Can the system do this?’ And our response is normally, ‘We don’t know. Nobody has ever asked. We’ll find out.’ Then we’ll do everything it takes through experimentation to implement a certain strategy or use a combination of features to achieve what they’re going for. We’re really just playing detective and experimenting.

On how long it takes his team to solve a problem:

About 70 to 75 percent of our tickets are solved in under 24 hours and our average resolution is 28.3 hours. We always outperform the industry average which is 24.3 hours for the just the first “hello, we got your ticket” response. How long something takes to solve really boils down to whether something needs development support from our tech team, meaning we have to code a solution from scratch. In those cases we need to get a developer to review the requirements, and then actually test and perform the scripts. If the ticket can stay in support then we can usually address it within 24 hours. The rest are normally fixed in about two to three days.

On why his job nevers stops challenging him:

When an association gets new management software, it usually starts out doing very basic stuff with it. But then after a year or so, they start asking themselves, ‘What else can we do with this?’ So they start trying out all these nooks and crannies of all the different features of the product and sometimes they go into places we’ve never even tried ourselves. And as our users get more versed in the product they take bigger risks, really going to the far corners of the system, places nobody has asked us questions about before. So no matter how many solutions we offer, our clients never stop managing to surprise us. And that’s what I love about this job.

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If you are interested in joining the Cobalt team, please check
out our careers page for more information and current openings.

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