230: Acquia U, before and after - meet Ally Gonthier

I sat down with Ally Gonthier the first time I visited Acquia's then-new downtown Boston headquarters in mid-2015. At the time, she was preparing to leave her job as Support Coordinator at Acquia to enter Acquia's Drupal/tech bootcamp, known as Acquia U. When I returned to Boston in the spring of 2016, I took the chance to talk with her again about her experiences at Acquia U and what had become of her in the meantime. Below is a transcript of our before and after conversations.

Before and after on video

More with Ally

Before Acquia U: Mid 2015

jam: Hey. We are at Acquia’s brand-spanking-new headquarters. It’s been barely any time. This is only my third day here ever and we’re in downtown Boston, and it’s kind of exciting. I am with a current and future colleague, right? Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us something about you.

Ally Gonthier: Something?

jam: Yes, whatever you like. Maybe something non-Drupaly.

Ally Gonthier: Okay. My name is Ally. My last name is pronounced differently depending on where you are in the world. In America, it’s Gonthier [read in American accent]. In France, it’s Gonthier [read in beautiful French accent], which is way better.

jam: Way better, okay. So I’m with Ally Gonthier. What’s your job at Acquia right now?

Ally Gonthier: I am a senior customer support coordinator, which is sort of a complicated-ish but not really.

jam: Interestingly, you’re about to be a "Ubie". So you’re changing from this job and going into Acquia’s Drupal training program.

Ally Gonthier: Yes.

jam: Why are you doing that?

Ally Gonthier: So I’m in support right now and it’s a very entry level position. There’s a lot to do, a lot of tasks to be done. To get me to the next level, I need to learn a lot more about Drupal and as intensely as I can, so ...

jam: And you’re excited about Drupal and you want ... ?

Ally Gonthier: Yes.

jam: You’re all about the Drupal now?

Ally Gonthier: That’s why I’m here.

jam: Okay. So this sounds kind of silly in context, but how did you hear about the Acquia U program?

Ally Gonthier: I literally met Amy who’s running the program at a Drupal camp last September and I bumped into her. We worked together but I didn’t even know who she was and we – she introduced herself to me and I was like fly paper. I didn’t leave her alone.

jam: Wow! Okay, okay. And had you heard of Drupal before you came to Acquia?

Ally Gonthier: Yes, yes. So I have been ... a “Supportian” for a while now. I had other jobs in life but when I went into sort of a technical land I found support really fit my personality well because not only do I enjoy learning and doing technical things, but I’m also really empathetic for customers. I really want to help people, and help them understand and ... I’m not necessarily a people person but I care if that makes sense, you know?

jam: No, it does. I think support, it’s actually such a great fit for people steeped in the open source mentality because you really do help people succeed and it’s all about transparency and sharing, right? And then I’ve also been told by other people from Acquia support that the difference between working in a support role and working in some company building website ...

Ally Gonthier: Like a help desk, right?

jam: Right. Well, you get to look at a different code base every day.

Ally Gonthier: Yes, absolutely.

jam: You’re not just working on the one thing for ...

Ally Gonthier: It’s every day is different. Every customer is different. It’s a different challenge every day. It’s great for somebody who doesn’t want to do the same thing all day every day.

jam: What’s your first Drupal memory?

Ally Gonthier: My first Drupal memory? Interesting. Well, honestly, I mean I learned about Acquia, obviously, because of Drupal but I was just looking into web design maybe five/six years ago. I just was comparing all the big CMSs or whatever was available at that time and I was like, “What is the best? And what is the hardest? And, okay, Drupal it is.” Then, I just started – I literally bought a book and I went front to back.

jam: What made you stick with it then?

Ally Gonthier: Honestly, I learned about – I figured I – I saw Acquia and they had some really neat tools that we still have this time like we had Dev Desktop which just made it really easy to spin up a site and play with it. Then, we had Drupal Gardens as well which you could just customize and then export that and then throw it wherever. So I did that for a couple of friends’ websites, and then I was like, “Where are these people located?” I saw they’re hiring so I just looked at their hiring page and applied to every job I could.

jam: Are you from the Boston area?

Ally Gonthier: Yes.

jam: Oh, that helped too, right?

Ally Gonthier: Yes.

jam: Okay, cool. So, how did you feel when you were accepted into the new Acquia U class?

Ally Gonthier: I’m ecstatic. I could not be more excited.

jam: Awesome. What were your expectations going in?

Ally Gonthier: I’m a little anxious, you know? I’m not super confident myself. I don’t know. It’s just something I had to work on. I mean, I’m going to just dive in and learn as much as I can and absorb it all.

jam: High five to that. So is it okay if we check-in again over the course of the program and see how you’re doing?

Ally Gonthier: Sure, absolutely.

jam: All right. I will see you some time soon.

Ally Gonthier: Okay.

jam: And good luck on Acquia U.

Ally Gonthier: All right, thanks.

jam: Thanks for talking to me.

Ally Gonthier: All right, great.

After Acquia U: Early 2016

jam: Ally Gonthier, it is now early-ish 2016. How are you?

Ally Gonthier: I’m well.

jam: Last time we were talking was the middle of 2015, right? And you were just going into Acquia U.

Ally Gonthier: Right.

jam: To recap, you’ve been at Acquia a while.

Ally Gonthier: Yes.

jam: And until you did Acquia U, your job title was?

Ally Gonthier: I was a Customer Support Coordinator.

jam: And what was your Drupal level, Drupal experience to be in that job?

Ally Gonthier: Zero basically. I didn’t need any Drupal experience for that position.

jam: Support coordinator?

Ally Gonthier: Yes.

jam: Then, you had the chance to do the Acquia U Drupal Bootcamp, tech boot camp thing.

Ally Gonthier: Yes, yes.

jam: How was that?

Ally Gonthier: That was eye-opening. It was crazy. It was fun. It was overwhelming. Every single emotion that I could ever – I was pushed to my limit and beyond. I cried more than once. I laughed more than once.

jam: I mean, it sounds funny that you say that but I’ve talked with a bunch of people ... It was a really powerful experience for a lot of people who have gone through the program.

Ally Gonthier: Yes, yes. I did things that I would have never normally have done and it gave me the Drupal picture, which I did not have before. It empowered me with my confidence. I knew what I wanted. I was just – it was a great experience.

jam: So I want to roll it back for a second. How did you end up at Acquia in the first place?

Ally Gonthier: I had always been in tech support for quite a while, different roles, different companies. I was sort of getting interested in web design, web development, and I was like, “Well, what’s the best?” So I was drawn to Drupal and I just literally downloaded Acquia Dev Desktop. I was like, “I wonder where these guys live.” I was like, “Oh, that’s 20 minutes away.” So I applied to three different positions. I interviewed for all of them and then they hired me.

jam: Cool, okay. So what was your thought process in going into Acquia U? What were you hoping for?

Ally Gonthier: I wasn’t sure. Ultimately, I wanted to grow and I wanted to try something different. Sad to say, but I wanted to make more money in the long run so ...

jam: There is nothing sad about that and, frankly, that’s a completely legitimate goal.

jam: What are some of the skills, some of the things that you learned in the – during the course?

Ally Gonthier: We built a bunch of different Drupal sites and, like I mentioned, it gave me the – it helped me for the big picture anyway. Like now I feel like I might not be a Drupal expert but I can join in the conversation and I can understand what my peers are talking about, you know? That’s like sort of the big part of it. I might not be an expert, but I know where the experts are. Now, I can have conversations with them, and grab that feedback, and learn from it so ...

jam: Even knowing how to figure out what the right question is and how to answer the question opens the door to enormous career, well, and enormous possibilities whether those are in career or whether doing something for yourself or your community with technology, right?

Ally Gonthier: Yes, absolutely. Yes.

jam: So what’s your title now? Did you get a new job coming out of Acquia U?

Ally Gonthier: I did. I am a Support Engineer now so yes.

jam: So you do actual Drupal on the job?

Ally Gonthier: Yes, I do. Yes, exactly. That’s right. So just like you described, I take questions. I might not know the answer, but I can find the answer and I have resources to help me with that. I’ve learned so much and every day just flies by. Of course, I’ve always loved the people I work with here. So I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else really.

jam: One of the things that I’ve always really admired about the approach that our global support team takes is that we’re not about – you have a problem with your website, you tell us what it is. We’ll fix it and then we’ll tell you it’s fixed and then go away. I’ve seen a lot of people share. They say, “Hey, so this got misconfigured. There was a problem on the server. The file system is corrupt in this way and these are the things that we did.” And whether subtle or not, we’re giving people the tools to help themselves or maybe not create the same problem for the second time. I imagine that you’ve got a situation where you now know enough about Drupal. You see all of these different everyday problems that people are having and every one of those is a chance for you to learn as well, right?

Ally Gonthier: Exactly, exactly. Definitely, yes.

jam: So you become more of an expert every day, more ready for – readier for new challenges, for new possibilities?

Ally Gonthier: Yes, that describes it. It’s fun. I like it.

jam: So you’re a problem solving sort of person?

Ally Gonthier: I am. I can’t do the same thing every day type of person if that makes sense.

jam: Oh, yes. So I remember talking with someone about their job in support saying that the best thing about working in support compared to working on a client project or an in-house project was, “Actually, I don’t have to touch the same code base every day. I get a completely different work day every day.”

Ally Gonthier: Every single day is something different. Different and you might touch something and not touch it again for three months. For me personally, it helps because I get bored honestly and in that kind of atmosphere, it’s really difficult to be bored, you know? So ...

jam: That’s really cool. So do you – let me think how to ask this. Do you have new and different career ambitions now?

Ally Gonthier: No, I don’t. I think I’m in a different point now where I’m just trying to do well at what I’m doing right now. Then, I’ve always thought of that like, “What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?” Right now, I’m just focusing on now and I’ll re-evaluate that eventually but for the time being, I’m pretty happy where I am right now so ...

jam: Cool, and Acquia U was part of putting you in this space right now. You’re pretty happy to sit and learn, and do this stuff?

Ally Gonthier: Yes, 100%. Yes, definitely.

jam: Cool. Well, congratulations.

Ally Gonthier: Thank you.

jam: We should probably make a pitch for Acquia Support being a really fun place to work.

Ally Gonthier: Yes, it is a lot of fun.

jam: Ally is a lot of fun to work with. I know that. So cool. So Acquia U, worth doing?

Ally Gonthier: Yes, yes. It was challenging. It was great. It was a good experience. It got me to where I wanted to be, so very happy for that.

jam: Excellent. Hey, so thanks for taking the time to come back and talk with me again.

Ally Gonthier: No problem.

jam: And you people watching this out on the internet have seen before Ally and this is after Ally.

Ally Gonthier: I’m sure I looked the same I hope.

jam: Well, you look enriched with Drupal knowledge now.

Ally Gonthier: Yes, I have the tattoo. No, I’m just kidding.

jam: Oh, you didn’t? Yes, you have to get that once you’ve taken the course.

Ally Gonthier: I know the secret handshake. No, I’m just kidding.

jam: It’s true. It’s real. Thanks, Ally.

Ally Gonthier: Thanks, jam.