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My Automattic Story: How I Got Here

Published on by David A. Kennedy

I joined Automattic recently as a Theminator. I made that job title up. It’s a perk. Like I’ve said, it’s a dream job and one that combines a lot of my professional and personal interests, but how did I get here?

That, my friends, is a fun story. The particulars involve starting the trial, moving to a new city, having a baby and landing the job. All over the course of about five months. Of course, you know how it ended, but I’m hear to tell you that if you’re interested, it can end the same way for you. It takes nothing more than most worthy in life things in life do: a mixture of desire, hard work, planning, luck, faith, an awesome wife and sticktoitness (Matt’s word, not mine).

In the Beginning

Ian Stewart emailed me on a Friday night. I remember because I was headed out the door to meet friends and see one off who was moving to New York. I shared the news that I would have a shot at my dream job with many of my friends that night. Oh, and Ian Stewart emailed me. Why is that significant? Because in late 2008, one of the first WordPress themes I opened to look at the CSS file was his Thematic theme (I don’t think he knows this; Hey Ian!). I started grad school at Elon University in late 2009 and cemented my interest in WordPress there, using it for projects, giving a workshop on it to classmates and developing two child themes for Thematic as my final project in the program.

WordPress had me hooked. It made sense. I came into grad school as a copywriter and former journalist so I liked creating with words and telling stories. WordPress allowed me to do that, but with code.

I finished grad school, joined The Arc and began to dip into anything and everything web and accessibility-related. The more I worked on front end development and WordPress theming there, the more I liked it. Next, I joined Rock Creek Strategic Marketing, where I worked as a contractor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There, I did WordPress projects and dove even deeper into accessibility testing.

Hello Automattic

When I left The Arc, I confessed to my boss that working for the company behind WordPress.com was something I wanted to do. I first learned about Automattic when Ian joined the company while I was in grad school. Much of what I did to grow professionally, I did because I thought it would help me become an Automattician one day. I used WordPress as much as I could in my day job. I built and released my own accessible-ready WordPress theme, I started contributing to Underscores, I joined the WordPress Accessibility team and began helping where I could and presented at my first WordCamp. Don’t be afraid to find your path, but don’t be afraid to make it either.

I Finally Listened

A few months after I released Accessible Zen, I decided to finally apply to Automattic. It took awhile. I had the thought of working for Automattic in the back of my mind since reading Ian’s post about joining the company, but actually applying took some gumption. Several people, including my wife, repeatedly encouraged me to take the leap. But doing so and possibly failing? That scared me.

I visited the “Theme Wrangler” page so many times that I found an Easter egg. Visit enough times and a message appears telling you to “… apply already!” so I finally listened. You learn much more from risking failure than doing nothing at all. Sidenote: Guess who built that “apply already” feature? Ian did, as I learned a few days after being hired.

Don’t be Afraid of the Corners

I’m really glad I finally applied. About half way through my trial, after I had moved to a new city, finished my first trial project and watched my wife give birth to our daughter, I was exhausted, but energized. Brave, but scared. With those waring emotions whirling around, I knew I was doing the right thing. The experience of the trial would make me a better developer, no matter the outcome.

When I first planned to go to grad school, I wanted to take a shot at writing fiction, and maybe a creative writing Master of Fine Arts program. After all, I was a practicing journalist – already a writer. I could hack it. I spent about three months working odd jobs and writing. Every word I wrote felt forced and nothing seemed right. But I didn’t know what was next or what the end goal would be if I wasn’t going to be a writer.

A few weeks ago when my dad and step-mom visited to see my daughter, we chatted about my new job.

Step-mom: Do you miss writing?
Me: No.
Step-mom: Why?
Me: I create things every day, instead of using words, I use code.

Life is full of corners. You can’t be afraid to go around a few and trust the process.

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