Distributed Team

Recently I was telling someone about my job for the first time. We were talking about how we communicate and how there is almost always someone else online working no matter when you are. They said something along the lines of that it must be like talking to some random stranger.

While that’s true some of the time thankfully because Automattic hires great people there is never a worry involved if I have to message someone I’ve never spoken to before. I’ve yet to have someone be unapproachable or find it hard to talk with them. This isn’t something unique to a distributed work environment either. We have close to 1000 employees, even if we were all in the same office building I wouldn’t know everyone.

There are also many people at the company who I know well and have built good relationships with. These are typically the people I work directly with, and especially my team, or those who have been on my team at some point. With them especially it doesn’t feel much different than people I’ve worked with side by side.

Partially this is because we do get to spend time together in person each year, but also because we talk regularly in our day to day work. Each year we have a team specific meet up where we all travel to one location and work together for almost a week. Then each year there is also the company wide meetup where we have time to spend together as a team as well. The next one is coming up very soon and I can’t wait to see my team again.

While we don’t get to do things the same as people who work in a office together, it isn’t that different, we just have to find different ways to do it. We don’t eat cake together in the break room for everyones birthday, but we do regularly celebrate each others milestone moments in life.

Recently a team member became a Grand Parent for the first time and we got to be there with them and see pictures almost instantly. I’m about to become a Grand Parent for the first time myself and we’ll get to go down this path together and support each other. It took me a while to come to terms that I was really going to have a Grand child and she already helped me come around and see the blessing it will be.

As I’ve written about I’m working on getting back into shape and I share my milestones in that with my team as well. They cheer me on, motivate me, and even push me to keep going and do better. One team member when it had been a couple days since I’d ran went on a run themselves and shared it pushing me to go too. We’re doing it together even though we’re far apart.

Learning to play tennis and I’ve had team members who play giving me tips, and are challenging me to matches if we can make it work when we are together soon.

One of the hard times is when a team member is having a hard time. You badly want to be there for them, close to help, and it is harder being far apart. Thankfully it’s easier than ever to arrange deliveries or ship things to people. Even if it is just a distraction from what is going on in their lives.

Even being distributed I consider my team friends and I’m so glad to be able to work with them. Very much looking forward to getting some in person time again soon.

Happiness Patches

Happiness Patches

A few Grand Meetups ago some of my awesome colleagues started a new cool thing, Happiness Patches. For any team you have been on, or done a rotation with, you get a patch. There are a few fun patches as well and they’re expanding a bit. The idea is similar to merit badges.

Each Grand Meetup I’d collect new patches and then they would live in a bag in my office, I never knew what to do with them. The one main idea I had saw others do was to put them on a backpack. Backpacks wear out though and I didn’t want to lose these. Finally this weekend I did something with them and I’m really happy with the result.

While the kids were doing a craft at our local Michaels store I went and grabbed a shadow box to frame the patches in. Had I just been doing the patches a regular frame would have likely worked, but I had a few pins to throw in as well so needed a big more depth. It has now joined the Automattic wall in my office.

The wall started out with just the print based on the Automattic creed, then shortly after I added the three logos and it has continued to grow since then. A local business, who creates custom pillows, made the WordPress logo pillow for me. Jen wouldn’t let me use it in the living room so now it lives on the top of my bookcase. The next additions were the award I received at work, and the WordPress pennant. One of my previous team members brought me a big glow in the dark Jupiter sticker which made it’s way to the wall as well. Jupiter is our team name. Last night I re-arranged things a bit so I could make room for the new shadow box. The wall can still use some adjustments to fit things better, but I really like it and it makes me happy when ever I walk into my office.

 

 

 

2017 Automattic Grand Meetup

2017 Automattic Grand Meetup

Another Automattic Grand Meetup has come and gone. It is always such an amazing, overwhelming, stressful, fun, exciting, unique, and tiring experience. This year was no exception to that.

Shortly before the meetup the team I’m on added three new people. That is exciting, always fun to get to meet and hangout with more awesome Automatticians. However this made our team fairly big and with more people going to be hired soon we split our team in half. That’s the sad part 🙁 Some of this wonderful group of people I’ve gotten to know are now moving on to form their own team. They’ll certainly thrive as a team and individuals, but still tough knowing we won’t be working quite as close together and on the next team meetup they won’t be with us. Luckily we were still able to spend time together this trip.

Another first for this meetup is the first one Jen was coming along too. Getting to work and travel so closely with her is another one of the things I’ll never take for granted working with Automattic. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together because we are on different teams and the week is so busy, but we made the most of the time we did have. In the beginning we made sure our flight was in early enough that we were able to go visit the water front in Vancouver and made our way to a beach as well. The day before we had left home we went to the shore here and Jen put her feet in the ocean. We did the same thing the very next day except in the Pacific! We also got in some walks in the mornings, chats at night before we both exhaustively fell on our pillows, and with big group we took the gondola up to the top of the Whistler mountains!

We took most of my old team, some of Jen’s team, and one of my buddies from when I first joined the company. Couldn’t ask for a better group to share this experience with. We took the Peak to Peak Gondola trip which takes you up the mountain, then across to a neighbouring peak, then back down again. The views, the air, and the company were all 💯!

Getting to share meals, work, and a new home room concept with all my colleagues, allowed me to meet many new people I hadn’t yet. My Meetamattician score is at a high of 52% of the company being met. Some of those were pretty quick conversations though.

This year I was particularly nervous as we were trying to keep support open  for our customers at a much larger scale than we ever had in the past. We had many Happiness Engineers doing their regular job for part of the meetup, and a whole host of others throughout the company join us as well. We started and finished the week in great shape thanks to all their hard work. It was such a cool experience having everyone pull together and work in person.

Being part of this company leaves me thankful just about every day. There are stressful parts, and parts that aren’t always so fun, but the people, the work, and the company all make it so worth while. Can’t wait to find out where we will get together next year to do it all over again!

Automattic Grand Meetup MMXVI

Saturday was the first day I’ve felt back to myself and on the Atlantic timezone since the end of the 2016 Automattic Grand Meetup. So far I’ve written several posts about the trip but wanted to post about my thoughts overall. Talking about the zip line adventure or the wwwp5k only goes into some of the planned fun we do. We also do a lot of work planning, and having awesome discussions.

One of the great things we all do I’ve posted about before as well, our flash talks. Each Automattician prepares and gives a maximum of four minute presentation on any topic they want. With the company getting so big this takes up a lot of time. This year we had four rooms setup to allow four streams of flash talks to be going on at the same time. They were broken up over the week. This means at most you can only see a quarter of the flash talks, but every one is also recorded so you can watch them later as well. I love flash talks. Both watching others and learning a bit about them or what interests them, and even though they make me very nervous, even giving my own.

One of the first days was dedicated a team day. This allowed us to get together in our own teams and do some planning and in person discussion which doesn’t happen very often. One of our team members wasn’t able to make it, and shortly our team will grow by one, but all of us there had worth while discussions and spent time showing each other a bit of our typical work flows to share how we work.

Near the end of the time we opened it up so that we could have a Happy Hour. This was a spot and time where the whole Happiness Team could get together. There were tables setup and seeded with questions to start the discussion. We would then move people around to other tables so you could meet even more people.

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I mentioned we have fun too right? This was at the closing party photo booth!
We had town halls for the whole company where our CEO, spent until early morning hours at the front of the room fielding questions and having discussions with all who could stay up as well. There were lots of other town halls throughout the week which were similar style for different groups throughout the company. Such a great way to get an understanding of where other teams are and what their plans are.

There are also projects and classes which you can signup for ahead of time and spend the week working on. At the end of the week the projects all do a demo day showing what they have worked on. It’s inspiring to see what can be accomplished in such a short time. The classes are all taught by co-workers sharing the knowledge they’ve learned with others. This year I took a class on People and Project management put on by a couple from our HR team and one of the team leads who I highly respect.

One of my favourite parts are the meals. We have an internal site, and now app thanks to one of the meetup projects, where you can keep track of all the other Automatticians you’ve met. This data is used to help assign people to meals with people they haven’t met. Having small groups who may not know each other doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but because everyone is so approachable it almost always leads to interesting conversation where I learn lots. It was also very entertaining to look around the restaurant and see it being almost completely taken over by co-workers. Picture this group in the pictures below spread out in restaurants throughout the village.

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Support at the Grand Meetup

One of downfalls which we are still learning to best deal with is how to handle support during a week when everyone is meant to be learning with each other. In addition to the project and classes some people do choose to do their regular job during the meetup. So for Happiness Engineers that involves doing support. In some years past we have closed our support contact forms with a message letting our customers know where we are and what we are doing and when we will be back at it. This year we tried not to completely close it but leave it open for some of our newest customers on WordPress.com. Other products handled things similar as well.

With WordPress.com support we still ended up quickly getting a large number of tickets submitted in a short time. It was clear we were going to fall behind in our response times. Some of this is expected and we booked time for when we arrived home for many people to spend time answering as many as they can to get caught back up. To make that job easier though we sent out a call asking for people to get together after dinner one night and answer tickets. This ended up being a highlight of the week for me. We had people who don’t normally do support join us. We had people who support other products join us and help answer our WordPress.com customers. With this group of people we spent a couple of focused hours going through tickets and were able to answer a large amount. It was really something to watch and be a part of. There were some pictures floating around, but I wish I had taken a step back and taken one myself.

Since we’ve been back we have been able to get caught back up and ready to start this week strong. There have also been talks already about how we can make more improvements for next year and holidays. This isn’t all coming from the Happiness team either! It really makes me happy to be with a company so dedicated to support.

To finish off here are some more pictures from my trip and walks around Whistler Village.

Worldwide WordPress 5k

During the Grand Meetup one of the events organized was the wwwp5k, a Worldwide WordPress 5k. It’s something that has been going on for few years now where WordPress users can run 5k from anywhere in the world and yet do it together by blogging about the experience. Even though you can do it alone and from anywhere we figured it would be a good chance for a bunch of us to do it together.

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It was a chilly rainy day in Whistler BC, but the scenery was beautiful and the company was lovely. It’s been a while since I’ve done much running and being over tired, wet and cold, so things were very slow. It worked out really well though because part way through I met up with a co-worker who I’ve wanted to spend some time with. It allowed us, through long breathes, to chat and come in together.

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Every time I get a chance to spend some time and chat with one of my co-workers I’m reminded how amazing each of them are. At the Grand Meetup it is even evident without directly interacting with anyone. The level of organization and planning that goes into this event is mind boggling.

Even this event there was about a large number of us who all came together at 7am to run and walk the course. This year it was also arranged that for each Automattician who ran we would donate to Souls4Soles. Just one more thing to make me proud to be working with all these people and for this company.

Zip Lining Adventure

Zip Lining Adventure

One of the activities which was organized while we were there was a zip line tour. Even though I have a pretty bad fear of heights I’ve always enjoyed the idea of sky diving. Not sure I would be able to brave my way through that one, but zip lining through the British Columbia rainforest seemed like a viable option. When I made it to the top and started walking down the first set of stairs I was petrified. The only reason I noticed the hail / rain falling on us was because my glasses were getting covered. Relying on some advice from my smart co-workers and watching a very brave one go before me even though she was just as scared as I was helped me press through.

Like many things it was well worth the bit of initial discomfort. Once I got moving and was able to take in the view it was more peaceful. After the first line I just couldn’t wait to get to the next. The initial step at each line still made me nervous but each one was easier than the last.

Here are some more pictures from my zip lining adventure.

Happy Birthday Noah: A Flash Talk

Happy Birthday Noah: A Flash Talk

Last night I arrived home from this years Automattic Grand Meetup which was held in mountainous Whistler Village in British Columbia. The crisp air, scenery, and mouth watering food all add to the experience, but as always it’s the people that make it special.

One example of this shows itself when I gave my flash talk to a room of co-workers. Public speaking is not my thing and even though the mic was shaking in my hand it would have been a lot worse in front of a different crowd.

Last year I used donairs to share a bit about the region I live in. This year I gave a quick introduction to my family. It was heavily geared towards Noah though. As I explained in a bit more detail during my talk it wasn’t because he’s my favourite, the youngest, or our only boy.

People used to ask us because Noah has three older sisters if we just kept trying until we had a boy. For me I was pretty happy with three children and likely would have stopped there if solely my decision. Growing up with just my Mom and three younger sisters myself I was comfortable with all girls. While Jen likely would have had ten kids, she wanted all girls.

The running joke in our family is that Noah received is name because at the ultrasound where we found out he was a boy Jen screamed out Nooooo, Ahhhhhh! So we just shortened that up, put it together and there we have it, Noah.

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I explained it was because at home he was celebrating his birthday while I was up presenting.

Four minutes isn’t enough time to tell all there is about Noah so I shared just a few things. Things like his favourite pass times which are soccer, basketball, and I’m convinced, pestering his sisters. Talking about butts and farts to get reactions from them. Like the night a few months ago when I told him at dinner I would be missing his birthday this year. It had him thinking about his cake. He decided he wanted a butt cake and he was going to eat a piece of the crack. This received the reaction he was looking for. He did back off this idea when I offered a picture of mine to be transposed on the cake. I guess it was a little too real.

Even though he likes those reactions he’s also a sweet little boy. I knew when I made it home I’d have a hand made welcome home card waiting for me in my office. He also tells Jen and I that when we are old we can live with him and he’ll take care of us. My favourite part is he still loves to snuggle with his old dad.


The date and and time for our flash talks are usually randomly generated. This year I made a special request to be in a big room on Sunday morning which the overworked organizers helped me with. I did this so that I could make as many Automatticians as I could think about Noah on his birthday and help me record a little message so that he knew it.

As it turned out I didn’t get the biggest room and our CEO Matt Mullenweg was scheduled in the same session I was, so I’m guessing there was a large crowd in another room. Both are probably good things based on how nervous I ended up being. A special thanks to everyone who wished Noah a happy birthday with me. He played the video over and over and was very excited!

Presenting WordPress

One of the goals I’ve been working on is to try and get out of my comfort zone a bit and start doing some public speaking. Being up in front of people is not overly fun for me, but I do see the good of doing it.

One area where I can see me potentially able to help people is by talking about WordPress. By no means do I know everything about WordPress, but I do have a pretty strong understanding of how it works, and I help people use it as my job as a Happiness Engineer. So far I’ve done two presentations on the topic. One I wrote about before where I did a WordPress.com 101 for a university business class. Last night I did one at a local meetup for Refresh Annapolis Valley. WordPress is a pretty popular topic because there was likely more people out last night than I have seen before.

My idea was to give an intro to WordPress and show people the basics of getting started. While preparing I went through creating so many slides with screenshots and taking people through the process of setting up WordPress and then working with it. Near the end I scrapped most of it and decided to go against a lot of the advice I had received and do a live demo instead. It still feels like the right move to really give people a feel for how to work through the WordPress dashboard but almost immediately backfired on me.

The talk took place on the same university campus and the guest internet connection is pretty locked down so I couldn’t load one of the pages needed to do the demo because it ran on a different port which was blocked on the connection. Thankfully the organizer fired up the hot spot on his phone and I connected to it and went through.

My intention was to record my screen so I could share it after, but once up there nerves took over and  I completely forgot to start it.

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One of the things I mentioned in my talk was the mission of WordPress which is as follows:

To democratize publishing through Open Source, GPL software.

One of people who has given me the motivation to start presenting in public is a team mate Mahangu Weerasinghe. Each year our company gets together and one of the things we do is each person has to do a flash talk while there. It is just a short, up to four minutes, presentation on anything you would like. His inspired me greatly and today an article about his story was published that is both inspiring itself and goes to the mission of WordPress. I encourage you to give it a read. http://heropress.com/essays/breaking-the-silence/

I’m sharing my flash talk below which is certainly less inspirational, but it shows how nervous I am in front of people I think and was my first time up in front of a group of people in a long time.

Automattic Dance Party

This Grand Meetup which I just returned from has been a bit of a roller coaster for me. Really my emotions leading up to it, while I was there, then coming home have had me all over the place. Realistically I’m still processing a lot of what I learned, what I’m going to take away, and how I’m going to incorporate these things into my daily life. There was one particular event that after talking to others and reading more thoughts I think really sums up what kind of environment Grand Meetup and Automattic is. That is the Automattic 10th Anniversary Party on the final night.

Honestly after dinner I was really thinking that it was going to be the end of my night. Before the party though I went and had a nice quiet conversation and coffee with a couple of co-workers. After talking with them I gave in and said I’d at least go give it a chance, I am so glad I did.

The party started with different groups of Automatticians taking the stage and rocking it hard. They only played together for a week and kept switching people up after each song. It really blew my mind. We are made up of such talented people in so many ways and this was just one of them. It really turned my mood around listening and watching these folks get up and perform for us. So I grabbed a drink and turned to party mode.

What happened later on still surprises me and shocked my wife, but I actually was up and dancing to our special guests The Jane Doze who flew in to take care of music for us. For many people this isn’t a big deal and something they do all the time, for me I haven’t done it since elementary school. That’s because at my first dance, where I thought I was with friends, I was laughed at and made fun of enough that it caused me to run away crying and leave. Since that time I haven’t danced ever except for a few slow songs which was basically just me moving in circles with someone else.

It would be pretty easy to simply thank the whisky I had been drinking for my new found bravery, but that isn’t it, at least not completely. Over my teenage years there were plenty of times that I was in the position to get up and dance being fully lubricated with alcohol but still didn’t. It also wasn’t only me. There are at least two other accounts that I’ve heard of where people got up and danced and it wasn’t something they normally do. In fact it was one of them who helped convince me to give it a try.

The real reason that I felt comfortable enough to do this was because of the atmosphere of acceptance and friendship I felt from everyone I encountered. It really felt like a safe, fun place to let my guard down. Chances are my dancing skills were every much as bad or worse than that time in grade school, but I never heard anyone laughing or pointing at me. That said, I still hope there isn’t any video evidence, but there very well could be.

Readers of this blog are likely getting sick of hearing me say things like this, but I’m so happy and thankful for the opportunity that I have to work at Automattic and with all the people who make it such a special company. That really starts right from the top with CEO Matt Mullenweg, right down to one of the newest members on my team Alicia Henry and really everyone in between who I was able to meet. So thank you to everyone! I haven’t listed all the names, but that could take me a long time and I don’t want to leave anyone out by mistake.

I’ll end this post with this pitch, if this sounds like the kind of place you want to be a part of, go to our work with us page and contact our obviously super human hiring team.

Home Again

Not sure where to complain. I came out of my room this morning and there wasn’t a never ending supply of breakfast foods or buckets of coffee waiting for me. When I mentioned it to my wife she wasn’t very receptive to my problem. 

Although being in Park City Utah with my co-workers for a week was just a great experience, I’m very happy to be home in my own bed and getting tonnes of hugs this morning from my beautiful children before they were off to school. 

Now I just need to find the laundry service and house keeping to take care of this pile of dirty clothes I have.