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October 21, 2017

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Duties of a fun-gineer: Concocting happiness at Zappos

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Emily Wilson / The New York Times

Tyler Williams, the head of experiential marketing for Zappos, in Las Vegas, April 27, 2017. Williams’ job is to design activities for the online retailer’s 1,500 employees that keeps them smiling — and loyal to the company.

Tyler Williams, 33, is the head of experiential marketing for Zappos, an online retailer based in Las Vegas.

In the language of Zappos, you’re called a fun-gineer. Why?

Our chief of staff dug up the title for me. My job is to bring joy and smiles to Zappos’ 1,500 employees. (Without the hyphen, by the way, I’d be a technician of fungi.) For example, I built an instant dance party in the company lobby. It works like this: When you push a button with a sign under it that says, “Don’t ever push this button,” lights go on and music blares. My position comes within our brand aura department, which is similar to other companies’ brand marketing departments.

Zappos sells shoes and clothing online. How did you get a job there?

In truth, I did not have work experience related to anything at Zappos. I’d been a professional drummer since high school, had built stages and knew audiovisual technology. I had heard it’s easier to get accepted to Harvard than to get a job at Zappos. I took the creative route and wrote, starred in and produced a video about the company’s 10 core values. Once hired, my first job was at the customer call center.

That doesn’t sound like a good fit for a creative type like you. Was it?

Not exactly. But the job I applied for was filled internally. That made me admire the company for its integrity to promote from within. Everyone — even our CEO, Tony Hsieh — has worked the customer service lines. After six months, I became a new-employee trainer.

How did that eventually evolve into your current position?

Because I was handy with constructing things, I became known for developing and executing fun ideas. The turning point was when Tony was preparing to give a speech for Amazon in his apartment. He needed to show the video in three rooms simultaneously. I knew how to do that. That’s when a light went on in Jamie Naughton’s head. She’s our chief of staff, and suggested I write my own job description. Jamie started calling me a fun-gineer, and it stuck.

Do you miss playing drums?

I managed to create a musical opportunity for myself and the many other musicians working at Zappos. We set up a music stage in the trailer park where a lot of employees, including Tony, live. Once a month, musicians show up to jam. We call it Open Air. I don’t miss the life of a musician on the road at all, so this is a wonderful compromise.

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Tyler Williams with The Head & The Heart performs on the Western stage during the opening day of the Life is Beautiful Festival on Friday, October 24, 2014.

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