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!

in june

Did I mention there was wine?
Did I mention there was wine?

The last few months have been a roller coaster of anxiety, sadness, and depression, so it was a relief when things started feeling inexplicably lighter. It comes in waves, I guess, and right now I’m enjoying calm waters.

Tim took the kids to visit their grandparents a couple weeks ago, so I got some impromptu time off. I questioned whether I might miss out on the family fun, but I’m glad I stayed. I can’t remember the last time I was truly alone for more than a few hours at a stretch, with the exception of traveling for work. I spent the time in the most mundane ways — napping, grocery shopping, making food, watching movies, plucking away at that third book. It was basically the perfect weekend.

Gillian Anderson as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named DesireI also started planning a trip to New York City for next spring, an early Mother’s Day gift to myself. A Streetcar Named Desire is coming to the city in April, and I bought tickets on a whim. Gillian Anderson plays Blanche, and seeing her in a live production is an experience I can’t miss. I haven’t been to NYC since I was a kid, so I plan to take a couple days to explore as well.

Then I discovered GA is coming to Boston Comic Con in August, so guess who’s going to her first-ever comic con? This gal! We’re not sure yet if I’ll fly down for the day, or if Tim and I will make a longer trip of it with the kids. I’m leaning toward taking vacation and spending a few days in Boston as a family; my brother has graciously offered us his guest room, so our lodging is free! Gwen is old enough to enjoy the science museum and the aquarium, and Ellie will get a kick out of meeting “Scully”.

"Work from anywhere? Just *try* to work from anywhere, you mean."
“Work from anywhere? Just *try* to work from anywhere, you mean.”

We’re on month four without a nanny or sitter, and working alongside an active three-year-old for most of the day has been interesting, but not impossible. I’m surprised I’ve gotten anything done at all, frankly. My expectations going into this were low. But the real challenge began earlier this month; Ellie started summer vacation!

Having both kids at home has been surprisingly OK. Ellie is good about finding creative ways to spend her time. So far we’ve built a lot of LEGOs, she and Gwen made up a play (El even designed and built the set out of cardboard boxes), and Ellie comes up with all sorts of games and stories. If anything, having her here makes it easier, giving Gwen a full-time playmate. I am so glad they get along.

Making a splash
Making a splash

On weekends we try to get out of the house; we’ve spent some time at the lake, took a trip to Bangor, and eaten more than our fair share of ice cream. So far, summer is off to a good start.

In terms of work, I’ve been so focused on home stuff that I’m feeling a bit disconnected, operating on autopilot. Grief is like a big glass wall; you can see everyone on the other side, and you can talk to them, but there’s this muted quality to everything. I’ve also been in something of a creative rut. Thankfully this seems to be mild. I’ve been working on a new WordPress theme which has reminded me how much better I feel when I’m making things.

I’m also distracting myself with X-Files geekiness and working on my book, which has almost finished a second edit. It’s been a long process, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve also been mulling over a post on fandom and my experience as a fan, in light of the upcoming X-Files revival.

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!