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Product & Engineering

Hacking Your Workload: How One Technical Support Engineer Increased His Work Efficiency

Raphael Kappos is not afraid to tell you his secret weapon is laziness.

Not the ordinary kind, but the kind that makes the senior technical support engineer a top performer on his team at Duo Security — the kind that breathes life into the old cliché of working smarter, not harder.

“The work efficiencies Raphael has created help him close more support cases than pretty much anyone else,” said Kevin Chan, Kappos’ supervisor at Duo, which is part of Cisco Secure.

Kappos’ job is to help customers solve technical problems, and his approach to hacking his workload has both technological and philosophical components.

“When you’re washing clothes,” he said, “you don’t wash one T-shirt, then dry it, then fold it, then put it away, then start on the trousers. You do a whole load all at once. I try to take this approach with support cases as much as possible.”

This often means reading through an entire queue of cases, then methodically knocking out the straightforward ones while letting his subconscious percolate on the more complex issues.

On the technical side, Kappos is a superuser of a browser plug-in that lets one create two- and three-letter shortcuts for frequently used phrases and explanations.

For example, typing “lmk” drops the following into an email: “Please let me know if this helps. Have a great day! Kind regards,”

Chan points out just how quickly such small efficiencies can add up:

The shortcuts — which can draw on a library of snippets for greetings, links to support articles, answers to frequently asked questions and closings — might save a technical support engineer as much as five minutes per email.

“If they handle 10 cases a day, that’s 50 minutes,” Chan said. “If that allows each TSE to do one extra case a day, that’s like adding one or two additional full-time staff.”

Yet while most support engineers who use the plug-in typically draw on a dozen or two of these shortcuts day-to-day, Kappos has created a custom library of some 700.

But since most of these timesavers are mapped to the mental catalog of cases he’s worked, they’re highly personalized and would be hard for anyone else to simply adopt: A question gets asked. Neurons fire. A previous answer is recalled. A shortcut springs to mind.

“What it really helps with is support fatigue,” Kappos said.

That is, answering the same question over and over and over can wear on engineers. And with every repetition, the replies tend to become almost robotic, infused with less energy and less detail, he adds.

“This way, my response is as good as it was the first time,” Kappos said. “And if I learn something new, the snippets can be updated.”

Duo technical support engineer Raphael Kappos in front of the Sydney Opera House

Many little problems to solve

Kappos, who was born in South Africa and came to Duo’s Sydney, Australia-based support team by way of Greece and the U.K., knew he wanted to work for the company after helping to set up the multi-factor authentication solution for customers at a previous job.

“I was amazed by Duo’s documentation,” he said. “It was very detailed and easy to read. And it wasn’t behind a paywall!”

Kappos describes himself as “technical, but not super-duper technical.”

“I kind of have the reverse of the Dunning-Kruger effect — I know how much I don’t know,” he said. “So, with my limited expertise, I was impressed how easy Duo was to set up and how accessible the documentation was.”

As for that laziness, it was hard-earned, Kappos noted.

“Making laziness work for me involved critical lessons before it was effective and valuable laziness,” he said.

At previous jobs, he would visit a customer, fix whatever was wrong and then leave.

“I often got called back to fix the same thing again for free, as I had neglected to show the customer that it was fixed, how it was fixed and have them replicate it with me there so they could see it was fixed,” Kappos said. “I quickly learned that taking a lazy shortcut without doing things properly is not effective laziness. It just means you need to do things again and this is more work than doing something, once, properly.”

This feedback loop of ensuring customers know that an issue has been resolved and how it has been resolved, is something he has carried forward into his current role.

“What I like about support is that we have many little problems to solve,” he said. “You have many little challenges and rewards each day, which I personally find very motivating. This also minimizes the emotional impact of the occasional failures, and prepares the mind better to learn from them and turn them into future successes.”

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