On My Relationship with Automattic, _s, and WordPress

Leaving a company never feels perfect. When I left Graph Paper Press in 2011 I was scared that my relationships with Thad and Chandra would slowly fade away. They didn’t, and we’re closer than ever before, but the fear was still there. Thad’s the best manager-slash-boss I’ve ever had, period, and Chandra’s like a brother. I’ve never felt more supported or respected at a job than I did with those guys; it was a special time and leaving it for the next Thing was hard because the experience of working with them was incredible day in and day out.

Quitting Automattic three months ago for the next Thing in my life was an easier decision on a personal level but a much, much more difficult decision on a professional, political, and social level. Would Ian or Lance hate me? Would Matt hate me? Would the Theme Division at Automattic forget me? Would my influence and impact in the WordPress theme world be hindered? Could I go back to openly but fairly criticizing Jetpack, WordPress.com, or Automattic without it being seen as sour grapes? Would I be banned from the Automattic HQ in SF? Would I still have agency to talk about the GPL or premium themes on both .org and .com?

In short, would my career with WordPress greatly suffer after leaving WordPress.com? It took me weeks to write my goodbye letter because I wanted to send the message that a) I’m leaving WordPress.com but I’m not leaving WordPress and b) I’m extremely grateful for the last several years.

It’s hard to express gratitude on one hand while also saying on the other hand that something about a relationship isn’t right anymore and it’s time to go. After a lot of time reflecting during the last several months, I’m simply convinced that there is a way to leave a company on okay terms, or there always should be a way to do it. There’s great fear in leaving a company like Automattic because it touches and influences every single corner of the WordPress universe, but I am absolutely convinced that you should be able to leave and continue not only contributing to WordPress but also make a good living from it.

I believe this so strongly that for the last three months I’ve continued contributing heavily to _s, submitting a bug report or two to Jetpack, figuring out ways to make the themes with Jetpack experience better, advising multiple current and upcoming premium theme shops on WordPress.com and .org on how best to leverage Jetpack and its features in their themes, and in general scouring over the codebases and commit logs of Automattic products because I believe in them and WordPress. For me, WordPress has always been more important than WordPress.com or Automattic; Automattic just happens to make a few products that I am fervent about making better.

This is why it was so easy to continue working on _s. I never really saw it as an Automattic project but a WordPress project that the best themers in the world work on. If you make themes for a living, you should either have created your own version of _s by now or you should help and contribute to _s, or Roots, or whatever Thing strikes your fancy. If you make money from WordPress themes, or are hired by someone who makes money from WordPress themes, it is your cross to bear to contribute in your own way to the theme world.

Last year at PressNomics Carl Hancock said that themes have become commodified. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, not so much about if what Carl said was correct or false, but about how we as themers can change that perception. At the end of the day a theme is an experience, for both a website owner and a website visitor. It’s your duty as a themer to tap into that experience the best way you know how, and when you feel you have valuable insight that other themers might benefit from, share it.

I believe in WordPress and _s. I also believe that Jetpack can be an amazing product. I think that WordPress.com and Automattic still have a lot to make better, both on the product side and the company side, but I believe in their mission and will continue to contribute to them in every way that I know how.

Always Be Tuning

The problem with the 10,000 hour rule is that it creates a half truth. The fine print of the rule is that extremely high quality practice matters, so 10,000 hours spent taking the same failed shot over and over and over are worth less than 1 hour spent tuning the dial, measuring where problems crop up, and taking that new data into account on the next try. Grinding hard and heavily is necessary, yes. But focus will always matter more.

Joma Sandwich

Soon enough we’ll die.

Sometimes things in life are difficult; it feels like sometimes we’re all hanging on by a thread, waiting for the next great big wave to wash us away. People vanish; relationships fail; friendships collapse; jobs end. Loneliness and abandonment squeeze the breath out of us. The things we hold seem to break.

I wonder sometimes if everyone else in the world is less afraid of suffering than I am or much better at hiding it. Maybe they’re better at recognizing the absurd notion of control than I am. Whatever it is, I sometimes wish I had that thing that would keep my brain still. It never stops; I simply cannot shut that thing off in my head that expects Bad to happen.

Surely I can’t be the only one.

We are oars in the same rowboat floating toward the same hopes.

Oh, our hearts don’t have heavy parts.

We’re like balloons. We float to new heights.

We’re like balloons. We float to new heights.

We’re like balloons. We float to new heights.

New Week, New Flowers

For as long as I’ve known I’ve been a big fan of tea lights and flowers. When I was a young child my father wasn’t too keen on his boy owning a Play-Doh Flowers Maker, but I’m older now and have money, and will drown myself in flowers until the day I die. The best part about buying them in Hanoi is that they are in relative terms much more affordable than in the States, so I make a point to pick some up every week to give more life to my apartment. I love them, visitors love them, who wouldn’t love them?

Hanoi WordPress, The April Recap

Yesterday’s meetup in Hanoi was our best one yet. Topics this month included a lively debate and discussion about selling on ThemeForest, the GPL (a topic that’s widely misunderstood throughout Asia), WordPress usability, and WordPress optimization. All of it was very engaging and the three hours we were at Hub.IT didn’t feel like three hours at all. It went by so quickly, which is always a good feeling when you’re among like-minded people.

I’m so excited for what’s ahead of us in 2014 and doubly excited that we’re in the initial stages of planning for the first ever WordCamp Hanoi. The community we’ve built here is fantastic, and the friendships I’ve made through it have been invaluable.

If you’re in Hanoi or plan to pass through, join us for the next one.

Hanoi WordPress Meetup Group