The Compression of 400 Teammates

I work for Automattic, a 100% distributed company. We rely upon meetups with our teammates to power the social aspect of our jobs and to work on short-duration high-velocity projects. Every year we also partake in a Grand Meetup where everyone gets together in one place to work and socialize. This year we were back in Park City Utah at the Canyons Resort. Here’s a wrap-up of what I did during the eight days there.

Teaching

Last year I taught an iOS class to about 10 people. The focus was on the WordPress for iOS application and to get them to become contributors quickly. This year I taught an iOS class again but I shifted from the complex WPiOS app to teaching Swift and how to start an app from scratch. The class ended up having almost 30 students.

The first day we spent most of the day on Swift. The rest of that day and the entire second day focus on Storyboards and Autolayout. I created a demo application prior to the GM which demonstrated a bunch of core concepts including timers, local push notifications, Core Graphics transformations, app lifecycles, storyboards, autolayout, and debugging techniques.

Tots

Everyone walked away with enough knowledge about Swift, Xcode, and iOS to get involved in a project or a more complicated tutorial. It was hard coming up with a curriculum that fit the vast range of experience the students had but I felt it worked out well.

Workshops

I organized two different workshops which were both held at night after dinners. The first workshop dealt with managing your attention at Automattic. The second was a forum/roundtable for all of the mobile developers at Automattic.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’ve been dealing with ADHD for some time – mainly since starting at Automattic. Over the past 2 1/2 years I’ve amassed knowledge and tools that can be applied to everyone working here, not just those with ADHD. We had a great discussion and discovered that we all have our own unique challenges with our work habits.

The mobile roundtable was also a success. When I first started at Automattic all of the mobile developers lived on one team. After about 6-8 months it was decided that we split the team up and embed mobile devs on product teams. This completely made sense and it has been a success since. The one thing that I miss from “those days” was a tight connection between all of us. We still try to hang out in the same Slack rooms but it is hard for new hires to get connected in the same way. The roundtable gave us a chance to talk about things that affect all of us and to make sure we all see faces with the names.

Outside Activities

Part of the Grand Meetup is set aside for doing activities with your teammates. This year I organized a guided bicycle tour around Park City. I did this last year but with only seven of us – this year it ended up being around 60 people over four time slots.

As Automattic grows we have to accommodate more people in these planned activities. I knew going in that it was going to be a challenge to coordinate people signing up internally and getting those details to the shop to allocate bikes. I started communicating about a month prior with the shop and ended up working directly with the manager/owner. Each planned activity had to accommodate up to 80 people in order for it to be on the master schedule. 80 was going to be a stretch with the shop, but they said they could do it.

Of those 60 people I think we ended up with 50 that attended. I made sure everyone got an Automattic “Poetry in Motion” fitness shirt if they desired one and worked with our activity planner to get boxed lunches arranged. It was a lot of wrangling but I actually had fun doing it. Nearly everyone who went said they had a great time and couldn’t wait until next year.

Flash Talk

Every Grand Meetup you’re expected to give up to a four minute talk on any subject. One of my coworkers, Carolyn Sonnek, and I decided to do a group talk on tater tots. I think you can see a theme here.

The talk ended up covering the history of Tater Tots and then uncovered a grand conspiracy surrounding them. When the videos become available I’ll make sure to post it here. 🙂

It ended up being super hilarious and a lot of fun to work with Carolyn on.

The Party

My coworker Rebecca Collins and I planned most of the closing party the last night of the Grand Meetup. It started out with the idea that we’d shuffle a playlist on a set of speakers. Then a couple weeks out it ended up that the two of us were to get some talent in and make the night AWESOME. So, we made it awesome.

 

The evening started off with a number of our fellow Automatticians forming a band which was organized by Carly Stambaugh. The music was great and it was surreal seeing your coworkers showing their rockstar nature. It was EPIC.

After the band finished their set the special guest came on, The Jane Doze. They rocked the Kokopelli Ballroom until midnight with dance music that made everyone get up and party. Between the lighting, decor, photo booth, glowy paraphernalia (sticks, rings, bracelets), and custom cocktails it was a sight to see and hear. It took a lot of effort from everyone involved in the planning but it was a clear success. As soon as Rebecca and I saw the looks on people’s faces it was obvious we pulled it off. 🙂

Decompression

Coming back from a Grand Meetup means a depression sets in. Another Automattician, Maria Scarpello, posted on the realness of the post-GM blues calling it decompression. She alluded to it being very similar to the decompression that happens after attending events like Burning Man. It’s nice having a name for the condition and knowing you’re not the only one.

This year, for some reason, I didn’t feel (or haven’t yet felt) the decompression. I very much felt energized after coming back home to kick ass at what I do. I seriously miss my coworkers and know that most of them I won’t see until next year. I’ll get to see the people on my team sooner, of course, but being around the group as a whole is a ways away again.

Next Year

I really can’t wait for next year’s Grand Meetup. The effort I put into it this year was totally worth it.

And PS if you want to be there for the next Grand Meetup, Automattic is hiring!

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