Tater Tots Through Time

Every year at the Automattic Grand Meetup the entire company gets together in one place for a little over a week to work and have fun. Part of that meetup requires everyone to give a four minute flash talk on any subject. This year my coworker Carolyn Sonnek and I decided to team up on our flash talk.

Carolyn and I are Tater Tot experts. EXPERTS. We dug deep and found some interesting facts on Tater Tots and even a conspiracy!

WordPress.com Supports (RED).org

I’m proud to say that Automattic / WordPress.com is a supporter of RED.org – the foundation started by Bono and Bonny Shriver to help prevent and cure AIDS.

Red.org recently moved over to WordPress.com VIP hosting and we partnered with them on producing an official (RED) WordPress.com shirt for all Automatticians. This is definitely my favorite piece of Automattic swag :).

Me wearing a WordPress.com RED.org t-shirt

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!

2014 Automattic Grand Meetup

At Automattic we all are a distributed workforce – we all work from all over the world.  Every few months we meet up with our teammates and work on projects designed to be started and finished within the week.  Once a year the entire company gets together in one place and we affectionally dub it the “Grand Meetup” (abbreviated GM).  This year, we all met up in Park City, Utah USA at the Grand Summit Canyons Resort.

We do a lot of things at the GM.  Primarily the GM is meant to be a restorative time to emotionally connect with our peers.  This comes in the form of group lunches and dinners, flash talks, recreational outings, and just sitting on couches talking over a coffee or beer.  Since we don’t often get to see each other (especially those of us who don’t directly work together) this is a chance to establish the inner voice we have that represents someone’s online persona.  When we see each other online after a GM, we can emote better because everyone has gotten to know our personalities.

We also are required to pick one of three things to do for real work during the GM: work on a project (to be assigned), work on your day to day project if you need face-to-face time, or participate in a learn-up group (teaching or learning).  I ended up choosing to teach a class on iOS development to seven other coworkers.  It was fantastic.  Almost everyone submitted a pull request to WordPress-iOS by the end of the class.

I didn’t take a ton of photos at the meetup but here are some of my favorite:

Working at Automattic

Some people have asked me what it’s like working for Automattic.  Every employee of Automattic has a different perspective on what it means to work here.  Here are a few things I feel are important to me.

Work Wherever, Whenever

Automattic is a completely distributed company.  We have a headquarters in San Francisco, CA USA but only a small percentage of us work out that office.  Most of us work from home, some of us work on the road, others work from a coworking space.  Sometimes it’s nice being able to change your location once in a while – I pretty much like working from my home office.  I like working a regular day, usually 7am – 4pm my local time and I fit some sort of exercise routine in there half way through.  We have flexibility to make our own hours and take the time off we need to.  We’re adults and we’re treated as such.

Equipment for your Job

First thing asked of any employee starting is to order their computer.  You’re allowed to order the equipment you need for your job – usually a Mac laptop and a large display.  You’re also given a budget amount for your home office furniture – desk, chair, lighting, monitor arms, etc.  I got a really nice standing desk from UpDesk and a Herman Miller Aeron chair.  I love standing during the day!

Your Team

Everyone at Automattic is on a primary team, sometimes on a secondary one as well.  We work virtually using IRC, Skype, and private blogs to communicate.  Sometimes we even do a Google Hangout when we want to see face to face:

Group Hangout
The Automattic Mobile team Hangout this past week

 

One every 3-4 months you meet up with your team in real life.  In January our team met up in Tokyo, Japan.  We spent seven days coworking and having fun at night.  It’s a team-building exercise as well as a chance to get some high-velocity work accomplished.  It’s a great way to recharge your team dynamic and to meet the new people!  Once a year Automattic hosts a Grand Meetup when we all converge in a single place.  We like to create special teams for the GM and either ship new real features within that week or do code training teams.  It’s a great way to meet people outside of your normal team and fun to boot!

Culture

It takes the right person to work at Automattic.  You have to be a self-starter and have the ability to stay focused on your work.  I’ve discovered more about myself than I thought I would almost immediately and working here has made me a better person.  Every position, regardless of it being technical or not, goes through a multistep process for hiring.  Matt Mullenweg, the founder and CEO, reviews every application submitted to Automattic.  If an application passes his muster, it’s forwarded onto the team or teams responsible for hiring.  The hiring lead reviews the application and scheduled a text-based Skype chat to see if they’d be a good fit for the position and company.  One or more people from the destination team may be involved, too.  If that goes well, the applicant is directed to complete a pre-trial project.  This small unit of work will show the applicant’s domain knowledge and ability to communicate.  After the pretrial work, if the team agrees to move forward, the applicant enters into a trial period.  You are paid to work on a part time basis with your team on a real piece of work.  This is your chance to integrate with Automattic and immerse yourself in the culture.  Take it all in – the process is a trial for Automattic to hire you and also a trial to see if you’re going to like working here.  If the trial is a success for both sides, then Matt makes the final call on hiring.

It’s not the fastest hiring process, but it’s definitely the most straightforward and transparent hiring process I’ve ever been involved in.  It takes about a year, so I’m told, to get a real grasp on all of the moving parts at Automattic.  I’m still learning every day and continue to work on how I want to accomplish my work every day.  It’s a lot of fun and rewarding!

 

We’re Hiring!

We’re always looking for more people to join Automattic.  Take a look at the open positions and apply if you see something you’re interested in!

Paying Attention at Automattic

All of my teen and adult life I realized that I perceive the world a little differently than most. I’d like to think I’m a smart guy but I never did very well in high school on exams especially for topics that weren’t science/math/computer related. I couldn’t read textbooks very well; my eyes would gloss over the details and I’d realize after reading a page I retained none of it. I hated research papers the most. In my early teens I discovered electronic music (at the time everything was called techno) and I realized listening to it while doing homework would keep that part of my brain busy so I could somewhat focus. I never put a name to the condition and just moved forward.

In my adult life, I coped with the challenges of whatever this condition was through a series of tools that I put together through trial and error. None of these tools were formally created by myself, much like the music discovery in my teens, I found what worked and continued with it. I ended up continuing on into college part time at night while working full time – I found the context shift during the day allowed my brain to focus on the learning. I did very well and my grades finally reflected how I felt what my potential could be. Work itself was a challenge, but I realized I liked taking on a number of different tasks and spending a pre-determined amount of time on each every day, keeping a structure in place to prevent boredom. I continually wanted to learn new things. Music and noise-canceling headphones also were still in my toolbox.

As I elevated myself in my career, getting more responsibilities like peer mentoring and tech lead on projects, I found the tools I had in the past didn’t quite work for this. Having to interact with others and integrate with their workflows caused me to derail pretty quickly. Keeping focus and retaining facts got hard at times. I plugged on.

Flash forward to me starting at Automattic.  Automattic, if you’re not aware, is an entirely distributed company.  All of us work out of our homes or wherever we may be.  We are all forced to be self-starters and good communicators over IRC and through posting of internal blogs.

I realized pretty quickly – within the first week there – that my quirkiness with focus and attention was more than just an annoyance. It was preventing me from maintaing cohesiveness between the work days and I felt like I was losing track of important details. I had an annual physical coming up so I decided to voice my concerns with my primary care doctor. He was receptive to what I was talking about but required me to talk with a specialist in the clinic – she is a trained counselor that deals with a variety of issues, ADHD being one of them. It was apparent to her that I had been showing signs of ADD (not so much hyperactivity) and suggested we take a layered approach to combating it. I was not comfortable with being on medication for the rest of my life but was willing to give it a whirl so I had some idea of what “normal” feels like.

So what’s my next steps and am I seeing any improvement? Short answer, yes, the medication seems to be helping with attention and focus. I can have conversations with people and I hold onto the train of thought much easier. I’m doing other things as well including meditation, yoga, exercise and some computer software to keep things in check. I’m also started a new internal blog at Automattic called Automattention for those of us who want to talk about ADHD and how it affects our lives at Automattic. I also plan on sharing my experiences here as I think it’s something a lot of people can benefit from hearing!