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 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!

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.

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.

Automattic Grand Meetup, Park City, UT

Theme Wranglers squad
Theme Wranglers squad with their dorky lead

Something magical happens when this company gets together. It reminds me of summer camp; you come away from it having changed, but it’s difficult to describe the experience to others. Suffice it to say, I work with some wonderfully smart, talented, and fun people.

Most of all, I love that I can be myself at Automattic. I’ve thrived over the last three years, thanks to an environment in which I feel safe to take risks and tackle challenges, knowing I’m supported by my team and my lead.

I was sad to leave, but I do so with many new ideas and forged connections. It felt like a week with friends, particularly the time spent with my team. My brain is full, my body is exhausted, but part of me has been rejuvenated. I’m ready to see what the next year has in store.

ThemeConf in Keswick

I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at ThemeConf in Keswick, UK this last week. It was quite a trip; I think I covered all manner of modern transportation to get there — planes, trains, buses, and taxis — but the conference, the people, and the scenery made the journey worth it.

The conference was generally about forward-thinking web development, with a bias toward WordPress. Attendance was small, but that made it more intimate and easier to socialize. I learned quite a bit from each presenter; the level of each talk reminded me of CSS Conf, but without the massive venue and hefty price tag.

As for Keswick itself, the town is adorable. Small enough to be walk-able, with lots of cute shops and restaurants. People had a lot to say about the weather, but I had no complaints; I got re-acquainted with my sweaters.

(I did not enjoy coming home to 80-degree temperatures and suffocating humidity, but that’s a different story.)

Automattic Grand Meetup 2014

Tim and I spent last week in Park City, Utah, for our company’s annual grand meetup. After much discussion, laughter, food, and games, I am feeling both energized and exhausted by the experience — a pretty common post-meetup feeling.

Hello, Miami

I just got back from six days in Miami for a work meetup with our squad. This is the first squad event I’ve planned, so I was a bit nervous — mostly about the location, and driving in the city. Thankfully both things worked out (as they usually do).

The hotel wasn’t anything special, but it was affordable, clean, the internet worked, and there were a few restaurants and a Starbucks within walking distance.

We drove through the city and out to the South Beach area a couple times, and I was a surprisingly calm and competent driver (this coming from the woman who learned to drive on teeny back roads, and a highway where you’re more likely to hit a moose than another car…) We would have been totally lost without Michelle, my trusty navigator.

The food was especially great; a big win, since we had an array of unique dietary requirements in our six-person group. Lots of Cuban and Latin influences, and a couple Japanese restaurants stood out (I have a newfound appreciation for sushi/maki after this trip). It was usually possible to find something for everyone, and a couple of the dinners were particularly amazing. We also did a food tour activity on the last day, and that was a hit.

And there was the beach! We spent a couple hours just hanging out in the sun. It’s been such a long winter, the ocean breeze and sub-tropical scenery were a welcome change.

I completely forgot to take photos of everyone working; suffice it to say we did work, and you’ll see the results in the next couple weeks. All in all, it was a successful, engaging, and fun week.

With that in mind, I’m glad I don’t have to plan another one for at least a year. 🙂

A day in the life of an Automattician

I probably talk about my job too much, but I do that because it’s awesome. But it’s not all about traveling to fun, exotic places, hanging out with brilliant coworkers, and designing pretty things…although that’s a big part of it. A typical day goes a bit more like this.

I get up at the ungodly hour of 6 or 7 a.m. You’d think I could sleep in, but I have these adorable-albeit-early-waking things called “kids” that need to eat and leave the house to go to school. It’s a mind-boggling concept, that one should have to leave their house. I don’t understand it, personally, but what can you do?

Formal attire.
Formal attire.

The stringent office dress code calls for a t-shirt and jeans or pajama pants, naturally. I grab coffee and breakfast, feed the kids and dogs, the standard morning routine. Then I’m ready to settle in, and get down to the tacks of brass.

Currently I’m working from our dining room table, since our office has yet to be renovated. Gwen sits next to me, playing, and interrupts frequently until E arrives (three days a week). Thankfully today is a sitter day, so I have seven hours of kid-free time to focus.

Yes, that's a toy pirate ship next to me. Of course.
Yes, that’s a toy pirate ship next to me. Of course.

The first thing I do after logging into Skype and IRC, our company’s primary communication channels, is check email. As Automatticians we’re supposed to be more progressive, but I’m old school–new posts from our internal blogs are filtered to my inbox, and I refer to these, check my to-do’s for the day, and comment on stuff that’s come in overnight. A bunch of my coworkers are in Europe, so often by the time I get online, they’re already taking lunch.

Next I check commits for my squad. One of the coolest parts about being a WordPress.com developer is that we’re constantly updating the code, fixing and improving things, and themes are no exception. We have a lot of them–well over 200, in fact. That’s a lot of code.

Theme Team!
I know it’s hard, but try to find me in this picture.

I’m currently overseeing five of my peers, but that sounds a lot more formal than it actually is when you’re working with a talented, self-directed group. They’re great like that. I act as a reference if needed, but mostly I try to stay out of the way and let them do what they do best, which is…

Wrangle themes!

By “themes” I mean the WordPress-powered things that make your blog look cool. In less WordPress-centric terms, I review, develop, and design templates for websites.

Theme Wrangling entails several different things. Sometimes this means reviewing another theme’s code for security or visual aesthetics, or making a new theme from scratch, or writing a blog post announcing new releases. If I’m on support that week, it means fixing bugs and helping our support staff with theme-related problems as they come up. Today, it means going over several premium themes’ code. We work with outside sellers to offer a wider array of choices to our users, and all that code has to be combed through to ensure it’s safe and meets our standards.


We now interrupt your regularly scheduled post for coffee.

I also check in with the squad members each Friday to recap the week’s events, see what’s coming up, and just chat. This is one of my favorite parts, because again, see the part about my coworkers being great.

More coffee!

After that, I start work on a new free theme I’m converting, and by “converting” I mean I take a theme from the WordPress.org repository and polish it up, give it a thorough code and visual review, and make it work with our unique tools (like Custom Design). Eventually I’ll set up a demo site and write documentation, and when it’s ready, launch it with a post on the WordPress.com blog (affectionately known as “en.blog”).

My office mates are real dogs.
My office mates are real dogs.

At some point I may take a lunch break, although I’m guilty of working through it. Note, this is not a recommended practice, just a bad habit I’ve found hard to break. But I do take frequent breaks to let dogs in and out (and in and out and in and out and…) do laundry or dishes, or check in with the kids.

Around 3 p.m. Ellie gets home from school, and our sitter leaves at 4, so we try to pacify the kids with TV for an hour to finish off the day at 5. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s rarely my most productive hour, so I use it to wrap up–check on commits, email, or read work blogs.

After the kids go to bed, I’ll occasionally work for a bit, usually light duty stuff like reading and responding to notifications. I try not to do that too often, though. It’s easy for me to get too absorbed in a project, and setting clear boundaries between work time and free time is a constant challenge.

Is that everything? Not by a long shot. As with any job, random stuff draws me away from my to-do list, priorities get shuffled, and unexpected projects pop up. Thankfully most of the work is flexible, and I can always turn to my team for help. I like that it’s varied, and I’m rarely working on one project too long.

That’s my average day in a nutshell. Like the idea of working in your pajamas, making your own schedule, and building cool stuff? We’re always hiring!