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!

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. 

The Grand Meetup Gitters

This past week has had me getting caught up on a lot of things, trying to be prepared to go away for a week to our annual company Grand Meetup. Last year I started working at Automattic on my Trial just shortly after everyone returned. At least one of my interviews was as they were all together. While I am very happy that this year I get to go myself and meet a large group of people who I’ve never met before, I also have a lot of anxiety about the trip.

I love traveling. Getting to see places I’ve never been, and all the people I work with are great. A few I’ve met during my team meetup the beginning of this year, but there are so many I’m really excited about getting to meet. There are going to be fun activities and interesting classes going on. The whole trip I’m confident is going to be a lot of fun. So what has me so nervous about it?

It’s not that I’ve traveled a lot, but there have been a few trips, and many of them I’ve gone on alone, not knowing anyone where I was going on the other end, but somehow this is different. Part of it is certainly the flash talk everyone will be giving. Getting up in front of people, as I’ve talked about before, is not fun for me. My presentation has been prepared and submitted for sometime though and I feel like I know how I want to present it well enough.

Even just the traveling part stresses me out. Flying is by far my favourite way to travel. I love looking out the window and seeing clouds or everything far below. The whole process still amazes me every time I do it. Airports on the other hand I don’t like. It feels like I never know where or how I’m supposed to move through. Do I take a carry on only, or check a bag? Do I have to pick up my checked bag and take it to the next leg of my flight, or does it follow me along automatically? What happens if I miss a flight? So many variables, even though I’ve never had a really bad time it still worries me.

Part of it is leaving everyone else here at home, it’s not often I’m away from Jen and the kids. Having the incredible flexibility I do with my job has allowed us to arrange our lives where we take full advantage of it. Lots of times Jen and I are just crossing paths or going opposite directions taking kids to where they need to be, or going to PTA meetings etc. So leaving everything to Jen has me stressed. Not that she can’t handle it, because I know she can, she does the lion share of organizing everything and making sure our household runs smooth anyway. But just the driving alone will be impossible to handle for one person. Luckily we have family and friends who are great about helping whenever they can, but I know it is still going to be extremely rough for her.

All week I’ve been knocking things off my to do list for before I leave. Even just little things seem to be bigger when you know they need to get done. Getting a hair cut, flu shot, car to the garage. Getting the lawn mowed, making all the phone calls you’ve been putting off. Making more arrangements for the car when you realize it needs a lot more than just an oil change.

Being an introvert and being around people, even though I enjoy it, takes me out of my comfort zone and I have to work at it. Having just gone to a conference this week and remembering how tired I felt afterwards, both because of everything going on, and because it also takes a lot out of me being in social situations like this. So realizing that I’m going to spend a week with a bunch of people, and getting to know them, makes me a bit tired just thinking about it.

All that said, I’m very excited to go on this meetup. Every interaction I’ve had with anyone at work so far has been a positive experience. Getting to meet these people and build real memories with them will make relationships stronger. One of things I’m most thankful for was getting to go, so soon after starting with Automattic, to Barcelona and meet my team. I feel it made us much closer and really solidified us as a team. Getting to do this with more people in the company will be awesome.

Knowing how much it costs, both financially and by taking people away from their regular jobs, goes to show that Automattic thinks the employees are important and that building these relationships with each other is a huge benefit. Another reason I feel so lucky to be a part of this.