Lees de Nederlandstalige versie

At the end of August, after more than 8 years, I will leave my current company (VRT). Eight exciting years, which I will look back at in detail in a subsequent blog post.

On September 5th, I will start working as a Software Engineer at Automattic, the company started by Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress. Besides WordPress.com, they also make Tumblr, WooCommerce, Pocket Casts, Day One and countless other great products.

How I ended up there

The many lockdowns over the past two years also had some influence on me. Working from home each day showed me that working can also be different. No longer sitting in the car for two hours a day was life-changing, it really allowed me to balance work and life much better. And the kids liked it as well because they had much more time with me.

About five years ago, I read The Year Without Pants, a book about Scott Berkun’s experience of working at Automattic in 2013. This book is about how, at Automattic, they have always worked at home, years before the pandemic. It’s about how they have small teams, all over the world, that are completely self-managing.

Teams work fully remote 49 weeks a year, and meet in person for the remaining three to four weeks. They do this during a few meetups, where the whole team gathers anywhere in the world for a week. Or during the grand meetup, where the entire company meets.

The last grand meetup

The book is about much more than just working remotely. It’s also about how Automattic is strongly committed to corporate culture, and how it manages to keep installing it, no matter how big they get. Quickly iterating on ideas, incorporating failure, and giving people who work on the product all possible freedom are just a few of their motivations.

In addition to how much I like their complete new way of working, there was something that attracted me even more. Their catchphrase is really 100% me.

We are passionate about making the web a better place.

I believe in an open web more than ever before. Away from the walls of Meta, Google, Medium and Apple. I love the Internet, and I believe if we can give users the right tools, we can empower them, and keep them outside the walled gardens.

Getting paid to be able to contribute to this sounds like a dream to me. All products by Automattic fit this vision, and they do so on a giant scale, as WordPress drives almost half a billion websites. Most of the work that’s being done at Automattic makes it way back to the open-source community.

A leap of faith

At one point, it became clear to me that it was time for something new.

Coincidentally, I just read a fascinating interview with Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg. Nine years after the book, Automattic still works the same way. But they are bigger, much bigger. Meanwhile, they have grown into a company of almost 2000 employees, of which about 700 were recruited last year alone. And they keep growing, so they’re constantly searching for new people.

Time to take a leap of faith. I sent out my application.

Code test

A few days later, I received an email telling me they were impressed with my application, and that I was allowed to go to the next phase πŸŽ‰. I was invited to the Automattic Slack, got some reading about the recruitment process and working for Automattic, and got a coding challenge.

That challenge, which took me about 5 hours, was fun. I got access to a git repository containing a small project that requires you to make some adjustments. All in pure vanilla JavaScript, without frameworks and with barely any tooling. You really have to show you know the basics.

In addition to coding, they also look at the way you communicate here. Communication is indispensable in a company where everyone works from home.

I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company

Automattic creed

Trial

While waiting for my code test result, I got very nervous. There are plenty of blog posts online from people that didn’t make it, or only after two or three times.

The moment I was told that I was moving on to the next phase was pure euphoria. I barely slept that night, and got me a good portion of imposter syndrome.

The next step in the process was a paid trial period. In this, you get a project for which you are paid. Not at your final pay, but at $25/hour. Luckily, it was Easter holiday, so I had some time on my hands.

In this step, you will also be assigned a trial lead, with which you can ping pong about details. I did a Zoom call with mine (hey Dan!) to get up and running. He explained the project to me and told me to look at it as if it were a real job, not a test. This tip helped me a lot because otherwise I would have gotten lost in the details. All our other communication took place over Slack and P2.

P2?

P2 is a type of Intranet that is used by the whole of Automattic to work together asynchronously. Each team has its own P2, and everything a team does is documented on their P2. This ranges from the weekly meeting notes, to photos and details of their team trip, to AFK announcements (vacation days).

https://wordpress.com/p2/

When you start your trial, you also get access to the Field Guide, which is a website that documents everything you need to know about working at Automattic. That ranges from all the benefits to learnings about the best office chairs. When I read all this, I started dreaming about effectively working there. Dangerous, because, of course, I still had to complete my assignment.

My assignment consisted of two parts, which had to be executed 1 by 1.

  1. Resolving a problem in React. This was quite complex (probably on purpose). But once it snapped, I was able to find a good solution.
  2. A serious chunk of system analysis and architecture. This was a bit outside my comfort zone, but was really fun to do. It also allowed me to show my knowledge of modern Web APIs.

In addition to coding, my trial was mostly writing. My P2 quickly filled with posts and comments back and forth. It takes some getting used to really writing down every single thought, and certainly to do that in English, but it is also useful. It makes sure all assumptions are validated before moving on.

(Many thanks also to Grammarly and LanguageTool for helping me to write better English)

After 17 hours and 23 minutes, I announced that I was ready. Then the waiting game started again. I really didn’t expect to pass. Did I write enough? Was my writing clear enough? I had countless doubts. Then somewhere in the middle of the night came this message:

I did not expect this at all! After celebrating, it all went fast. I had another pleasant conversation with someone from Developer Experience (hi Kevin!) in which they looked for a suitable team inside Automattic for me. Then a short conversation with someone from HR (hi Caron!) in which we juxtaposed our expectations, and arranged some modalities. And then there was a proposal in my mailbox. Which I signed.

Welcome to the chaos*

After I signed, the company began to open up to me like Alibaba’s cave. I was introduced to my team, got access to all Slack channels and was able to start reading a bunch of P2s. I was also allowed to order my laptop and screen immediately, and received a nice welcome pack in the mail.

Welcome pack 🀟

(* the first sentence of the Field Guide)

Countdown

1662364800

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

🏁 Automattic

So, in about three months, I’ll start. In a great team (team Apex) that mainly deals with things that make content creation easier and better. Like creating new blocks for the fantastic editor. I’ve met them on Slack already and they seem great.

I am excited about this new challenge. But I’m also going to miss countless things, like the great team I work with every day at VRT. I also rejected another remarkable job offer here in Belgium for this adventure. Two decisions that weren’t easy to make.

However, it feels like something I just have to do. Working on a better and more open Internet is something that’s in my DNA. The fact that I can do that from home, and get to explore the world a few times a year, is a bonus.

The hiring process, start to finish, was a real joy. Everyone I met was friendly, welcoming, and they really want the best for you. Take a look at the current job openings if you’re looking for a new challenge, I can highly recommend taking the jump.

I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.

The Automattic creed

In the early ’00s, I was an avid blogger. I remember the launch of WordPress and the ripple it caused in the blogging community, and was an early user myself. The first version of Wannabes ran on it, and I spend a lot of time dabbling in the WordPress code back then. Being able to work on WordPress.com 20 years later is just incredible.

A smart man once said, β€œYou can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. I’m starting to think he’s right.

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