Automattic Business Cards

One of the perks of currently being in the United States for Automattic-related travel is that I am able to take advantage of having things easily shipped to me (import taxes in Vietnam can be quite steep).

My coworker MT, whose work and overall swagger I both greatly admire, sent the following business cards to New York City for me this week.

The coolest part about the cards is the QR Code, which when scanned (on paper or on screen; try it!) with an application like Scan links directly to my Gravatar profile.

Automattic’s Budapest Meetup

Automattic

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”.

Colleagues

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.

Team Projects

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.

Automattic

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.

New Friends

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.

I’ve Joined Automattic Inc.

Automattic Logo

It was at the end of July, after a meeting with Graph Paper Press about my role and my future with the company, that I knew it was time to take another leap into the abyss of the unknown. The last two years with the team were some of the most rewarding of both my professional and personal lives, but we mutually agreed that after WordCamp San Francisco 2011, where we met in person for the first time, I would leave.

Luck would have it that just a few weeks prior to my decision to leave Graph Paper Press an employee of Automattic was traveling through Hanoi and looking to meet other WordPress folks. We originally decided to meet for bún chả in the Old Quarter and talk WordPress; we still ate lunch but were too busy discussing life to dive into industry talk.

When I met Evan and Dustin in Hanoi the last thing on my mind was applying to Automattic; I was just happy to get together with other Americans here who know tech and enjoy travel. It actually wasn’t until WordCamp that I began to give it serious thought[1. Who I work with is the single most important factor that goes into any decision I make about project work or seeking full-time employment. After volunteering at the Happiness Bar and talking with so many good people, I felt positive that I should consider reaching out to the company.].

WordCamp left me utterly gobsmacked in a good way. Even after developing with WordPress for so many years I had never attended the event and I had no idea it would completely revitalize my enthusiasm for open source software. I felt overwhelmed and inspired being surrounded by so many talented people and knew that I wanted more of it in my life. That’s when I applied to Automattic again[2. I applied to Automattic for the position of Theme Czar in mid-2009 and was never interviewed. In hindsight, I am fortunate for being overlooked. My skill set at the time was nowhere near what it is today and I would have been a burden on and an embarrassment to the company, not an asset.].

I’ve reached a point where going it alone is a hindrance to my goal of becoming a top notch developer and my ability to give more of myself to the community. I’ve never been willing to compromise on where I physically work, but unless I’m willing to completely shed my misguided notions about how I work—solo, small team, or larger company—then my skill set as a WordPress developer will wither away and die with time.

Automattic is my silver bullet. It’s a company that encourages my working style and also gives me access to some of the brightest minds in the world. Moreover, it celebrates the sharing of knowledge. There is a culture of openness here that even the unseasoned rookie picks up on. It’s a culture that makes me want to be a better communicator.

My official—I use that word very loosely—job title at Automattic is Theme Wrangler[3. Automattic is hiring! You should send in an application.]. What this means is that I spend a great deal of time making, breaking, and fixing themes.  It’s what I’ve been doing ever since I began blogging with WordPress in 2004 and I do not plan to stop any time soon. As long as I’m able to contribute to the company and as long as the company will have me, I plan to give my professional energy to it.

I’m both nervous and excited about this, nervous because I want to perform well for my team[4. One of my greatest personality flaws is at times a near-crippling insecurity about my abilities and the quality of work that I do, both professionally and personally. I want to be perfect and mistake-free—this is a fool’s pursuit, I know—and as a result stress myself out about whether or not I’m good enough. It’s always been this way, unfortunately.] and excited because I feel a new world of coworkers and future friends opening up to me.

The first projects I completed for Automattic as a trial Theme Wrangler were .org to .com conversions of the WordPress themes Nishita and Bold Life[5. I should make it painfully clear that most of the work done inside of the Theme Team is open to team collaboration; however, I was primarily tasked with these two themes and feel a very strange and emotional connection to them.]. The responses to them made me feel wonderful and I hope that a year from now I have many more theme conversions, as well as theme creations, under my belt at Automattic.