Last week I had the privilege of finally making it public that I’ve joined Automattic. In truth it felt a little weird posting that information a few days before my official start date (October 24th, 2011) but I knew that this week would be hectic and wanted to get it out into the wild.
I’m writing this from Budapest, the location of this year’s Automattic meetup—which wrapped up last night—and my first week on the job. Nearly 100 members of the Automattic family, old and new, flew to Hungary to talk about the state of the company; give flash talks, or 5-minute mini-presentations, on any topic of our choosing; and work on various team projects that will improve working conditions for Automatticians and primarily increase happiness for users of Automattic products. What follows are moments from this week that I will not soon forget.
My Flash Talk
At the risk of being cliché I made my talk about myself, but more specifically a talk about several important lessons I’d learned over the years while living in Vietnam and how they apply to my approach to work:
- Deception: Hanoi is a mix between this and this. It’s important to remember that the highs are never that high and the lows are never that low. I’ve approached working at Automattic in the same way, realizing that it is a dream job and a place that I’d like to call my working home for a very, very long time, but also keeping in mind that there are times here when chaos reigns. Never too high. Never too low.
- Persistence: Vietnamese people believe their bikes can hold anything and refuse to stop pushing the limits of physics. They are stubborn and if told something cannot be done will find a way to do it. I admire this persistence and it informs much of how I live my life and how I approach coding. I’d rather live life and work on my terms than be boxed in by convention.
- Perspective: When we say words like “home” or “away” it’s vital that we pay attention to context. Home for me isn’t home for others; the same applies to what it means to be away. When interacting with users or giving and receiving feedback to colleagues we must establish a baseline for that communication and understand from where they are coming. We cannot control what is said or done to us; we can only control how we react to it and how we decide to communicate our ideas and feelings to users and colleagues.
- Food: Food, like code, is meant to be shared with others and consuming it alone is a recipe for unhappiness. We develop emotional attachments to not only what we put inside of our bodies but also what we produce for others. Whether what we make is great or horrible isn’t as important as getting it out into the wild and sharing it with others.
- Family: I showed a few slides of my family, both in Vietnam and the US, to make the point that I take family seriously. In the same vein, who I work with is the single most important factor that I take into account when deciding to work for a company. Automattic is a family and we’re all in this together, from the 3-day rookies to the 3-year veterans of the company. I also mentioned, and will continue to mention, that any coworker who visits Hanoi has my word that I’ll show him a great time.
I’m generally quite comfortable speaking in front of large crowds, but the night before my flash talk I was all nerves and unable to sleep. Automattic is filled with intellectual freaks of nature and outside WordCamp San Francisco I don’t know that I’ve ever been around that many people at the same time who made me say “Wow”.
Mealtimes with other Automatticians were incredible. On my first night in Budapest I sat at a table with ten other members of the company, none of whom were American citizens—which underscores our global reach—and all of whom had multinational backgrounds. We talked about a variety of topics: living far away from our places of birth; raising children in a multicultural household; Aldous Huxley and his writing on mind-altering substances; and religion. It was so nice to know that there were other topics for us to discuss outside of technology, given how much it already dominates our day-to-day lives.
Another highlight of eating with coworkers came on the last night of the meetup, when the Theme Team went out to eat as a group. During the last two months I’ve interacted with each of its members and gained some insight into their quirks, but nothing could have prepared me for spending time with them all in person. We got along so well and have a shared vision about the future of WordPress themes on both WP.com and WordPress.org. Now when I talk to my teammates online I will know exactly how to receive their comments because the gaps of my understanding their personalities have been filled in during the last week.
Within the company we shoot for 2-week code and idea iterations. Shorter iteration times minimize the damage of failed implementations while at the same time increasing the amount of feedback that we’re able to gain in the long run. The company was divided into 14 teams and each team was given a project to finish and (hopefully) launch by the meetup’s end. Around 12 teams launched their projects at the end of the 6-day meetup, which is astounding considering how dense each of our schedules were during that time.
My favorite projects involved improvements to P2, WordPress’ built-in gallery styling, WordPress.com’s support system, and how WordPress feels on mobile devices. I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that during only 6 days teams were able to put together such wonderful products.
The CEO’s of the company gave an intimate talk about the current state of the company and where Automattic is headed. The best public summary I can give of this talk is that if you match one of the skills that’s listed on this page then you should apply. I feel so secure and pleased with my decision to join Automattic.
In just six days I made some new friends at the company who I am confident I will grow closer to over the years. These are people who, even if I didn’t work at Automattic, I would hang out with and enjoy having in my close circle of friends. The best part about this is that all of them are spread out over the globe in countries that I’ve never visited, which means that I now have even more of a reason to travel. I remember at some point during the week thinking that even if Automattic disappeared overnight (it won’t) I would have left this week with some new friends who I am sure I will know for a very long time. That enough was a perfect reason to fly to Hungary.
It was a great week. I leave Budapest tomorrow and finally return to Hanoi. Even though my current home in Vietnam could never compete with a swank Hungarian hotel, it’s home and that’s all that matters. I miss my bed and my water heater that only provides a rushed shower. Most importantly, I miss the food.