A Day in the Life of an Automattician: Revised Edition

I’ve written about my life as an Automattician before, but much has changed in the last two years, so I thought I’d update that post!

Now that Tim is a full-time stay-at-home parent, he wrangles the kids in the morning. Gwen goes to a summer pre-K program and Ellie hangs out with us during the day. It’s gotten easier to work with the kids at home now that they’re older and more independent.

My little corner of office paradise.

My little corner of office paradise.

Our office renovation is finally finished (post forthcoming), so I usually grab coffee and breakfast with the family before heading upstairs to my little corner to work. I sign into Slack and say hello to the team, then check email to catch up on P2s, adding anything of note to my day’s to-do list (I use Reminders).

My desk is electric adjustable, so I switch between sitting and standing throughout the day, which keeps me active. When my feet get tired, I sit; when my butt gets tired, I stand. Automattic provided an ergonomic setup when I was hired, and I’m happy I can finally use it!

Several months ago I switched from managing a “squad” within the Theme Team to leading the whole Theme Team, which is currently 12 people. I still review code and make themes, but I also keep up with (or attempt to keep up with) company goals, and make sure the team’s contributions line up. It’s a lot of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic checking in with my team and our division lead.

Midday meetings with my office mate.

Midday meetings with my office mate.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I focus on theme development, code review, and non-administrative tasks as much as possible. Keeping this balance is essential to my happiness; I don’t think I could be fulfilled in a role where I wasn’t making things at least part of the time. Right now, I’m reviewing a couple premium themes and coding a health-and-wellness-focused theme designed by my esteemed colleague and theme-designing machine, Mel, taking her mock-up and turning it into a working theme.

The team’s focus has expanded from theme review and development, so I’m learning a lot of new things from my peers; there’s a strong focus on testing, targeted research and UX/NUX, and filling out our collection of themes to better serve WordPress.com customers. This means we’re more careful about which themes we launch, as we’re trying to fill niches based on data-driven results.

Components

Components is not only functional, it’s *adorable*.

We also have a lot of standardization and customization projects in the works; one such project is ongoing work on Components, our new starter theme generator, which helps us build themes using standardized components, making the development process faster and more streamlined than starting from scratch. It’s like the next generation of Underscores, but more flexible and powerful, with more cool stuff built in.

Wednesday through Friday I check in with my team in one-on-ones, and on Wednesdays we have a video team chat to catch up and discuss priority projects or issues that have come up during the week. We also have a bi-weekly division meeting to do the same with other division team leads. It’s pretty amazing to work in a company of 450+ people and have only a handful of “meetings” each month. We don’t meet for the sake of it, but there’s a distinct communication boost when we’re able to sit down and chat face to face, so we try to take advantage of that.

One huge benefit to having an office is the reinforced lunch break; I have to go downstairs for food, so I’ll usually take an hour in the middle of the day and get lunch, play a card game with Tim and the kids, go for a walk, or tidy up. Staying on my feet means I’m more likely to take short breaks during the day as well.

Typical work attire.

Typical work attire.

The office dress code hasn’t changed; I still wear pajamas 90% of the time, although my Ninja Turtle pants have been retired in favor of leggings or yoga pants. I’ve been working like this long enough that the majority of my wardrobe is t-shirts, either for WordPress/Automattic products or X-Files graphic tees. I faintly remember a time when I had “work clothes” and “home clothes”, but that’s no longer the case. 🙂

Another benefit to having a dedicated workspace means I rarely work in the evenings. My laptop stays on my desk, and at night I’m likely to be found downstairs, playing games with the kids or watching a movie. I still keep an eye on notifications using my phone, but I don’t check work email or P2s. I think I can finally say that I’ve found a solid work/life balance.

Four years in, I’m as happy to be working at Automattic as the day I was hired. As with any job, there are good days and not-so-good days, but even on the not-so-good days, I can’t imagine working anywhere else.

And y’know, we’re hiring!

Four Years at Automattic

Time flies when you’re having fun, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing at Automattic for the last four years.

I’ve strengthened my programming skills, learned responsive design and development, picked up Sass and Grunt, and tried all sorts of interesting tools. I’ve designed and built themes that are used by thousands of people, and it’s just as humbling to watch those numbers climb now as it was when I first became a Theme Wrangler.

I’ve watched a sunrise off a Hawaiian cliff, eaten a myriad of cuisines, weathered an ice storm in Charleston, discovered a taste for sushi, adopted a puppy, seen a rainbow over the Tuscan countryside, ridden in a helicopter over inactive volcanoes, gone stargazing with my colleagues, mastered the Oxford comma, and gotten a tattoo — to name a few things.

I’ve been present when my family needed me; when my daughter was in the hospital for burns, when my father was sick, when my kids had recitals and concerts. I’ve taken long, rejuvenating vacations and, and I’ve never had to worry about losing my job for balancing career and family. My company has been supportive and encouraging, and as a result…

I’ve been more productive in the past four years than I’ve ever been. I’m constantly being challenged to think in new ways, to try new things, to stretch a little further and not be afraid to fail. My role has continued to evolve in ways I never imagined it would when I first started.

There are hundreds of memories I wouldn’t have and dozens of amazing people I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for this quirky, driven, distributed company.

Thank you, Automattic, for an amazing four years. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Gallery

Theme Team in Vancouver, March 2016

Theme Team! Photo by Tammie Lister

Theme Team! Back row: Me, Thomas, Ola, Allan, Ernesto. Front row: Richard, David, Kathryn, Laurel, and Jeff. Photo by Tammie, who should also be in this picture.

I spent a fun and productive week with my team in Vancouver, BC last week!

My first impression of the city was that it smelled nice, unlike most cities, which either smell like pee or exhaust fumes or both. It also had the cleanest train system I’ve ever encountered. Well done, Vancouver.

Everyone talks about the rain, but it wasn’t as soggy as I expected (except for the last day, but that’s a different story). It was either cloudy, misty, or lightly raining. Occasionally we’d catch a hint of sun, which was a nice surprise.

My team kicked butt on our project, a new iteration of Components. We worked on the first version as a squad in Lisbon, and similar to Lisbon, we broke into groups to tackle different parts. The idea is to bring everything together to create a starter theme generator that includes custom-built user-selected components as well as common theme types.

When we weren’t working, we saw some of Vancouver’s many sights. We toured the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, saw the Mashup exhibit at Vancouver Art Gallery, grabbed lunch and did some shopping on Granville Island, and walked around Stanley Park.

Watching everyone come together to collaborate inspired some serious proud Theme Mama feels. These people are amazing, and I’m honored to work with them every day.

Gallery

Lisbon, Portugal with the Theme Wranglers

Wrapping up my last major travel event of the year with a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, to spend a week with my squad.

The groups’ project turned out amazing; it’s not quite ready to be made public, but for now I’ll say I’m super excited about it and proud of everyone for pulling it off in four short days.

Lisbon itself was a treat. The warm, sunny weather was a relief from Maine’s gray November cold, and the people were gracious and patient with us non-native speakers. I was shocked at how inexpensive things were compared to other city-based meetups we’ve done. Amazing food and lots to see, and we came in well under budget.

We had two days to explore, and we didn’t cover even an eighth of what was there; to say it was a busy week was an understatement. We did get to see a beautiful view of the city from the top of the Santa Justa lift, and the gardens and architecture at the Jerónimos Monastery.

Oh, and Sarah helped me put a purple streak in my hair! You never know what trouble fun Automatticians will get up to when they get together.

I had a great time, but it’s good to be home, knowing there’s no travel in my immediate future. Three months in a row was tough for this homebody.