Last week, I met up with fellow Theme Wranglers, my team at Automattic, in Lisbon Portugal. We hacked on a cool, new project and talked a lot about themes. Here are a few shots from the trip.
Since I was 13, I wanted to be a writer. I became one, spending part of my career writing for newspapers, magazines, corporations and nonprofits. But then I found the Web and everything changed.
One year ago today I joined a company called Automattic, with its mission to making the Web a better place. We make WordPress.com, and contribute to WordPress, the software that helps power it and enables millions to publish with the same world-class software as big-name publishers like the New York Times, Wired and more. That’s a pretty cool gig for a former professional writer.
At Automattic, I work on the Theme Team, trying to make themes on WordPress.com the best they can be. I love themes. I best expressed that in my application to Automattic:
I want to be a Theme Wrangler because I believe that a good WordPress theme can open up a new world to those using it, and in turn, reveal something unique about the site’s owner to the world. A theme can become the centerpiece to someone’s story. That’s something I want to do for as many people as possible.
During the last year, when not focusing on creating and reviewing themes for WordPress.com, I’ve worked supporting our premium theme partners. I’ve had the most fun with that because of the sheer variety of tasks it demands. From triaging tickets to fixing bugs, reviewing code to launching themes, plus collaborating with premium themers to thinking about the big picture. It never gets old, and I’m excited about the future of premium themes on WordPress.com.
But really, the great things about being at Automattic aren’t just building software used by millions or traveling to neat places to work with your colleagues. It’s the mission and the people behind it. Every day you work beside folks who not only care about making the Web a better place, but you too. Everyone is empowered to make a difference. To write their own story in a way. Again, not a bad place to be for a writer-type like me. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.
Our work is far from finished, and I hope there are hundreds of failures we learn from over the next 20 years. One of the things that makes me happiest is that I get to wake up every morning and work on the hard problem of making the web a better and more open place, and I do it alongside close to 400 talented people at Automattic and thousands in the broader community.
In Ten Years of Automattic, Matt Mullenweg talks about the first decade of the company he founded to help make the Web a better place. I’m proud to be a small part of that journey, and can’t wait to see where we go next.
Automattic’s Creative Director, Dave Martin, takes you inside the way Automattic’s hires its employees. Some of it may surprise you.
The Theme Division at Automattic met in Lihue, Hawaii last week for a meetup. I had a blast meeting and working with everyone in person. Here are a few shots I took while out and about.
I helped a bit with Twenty Fifteen, my first code contributions to a default WordPress theme. I’m thrilled to see it launch.
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.
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: 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.
What About You?
We’re hiring. Join the band!
Inspired by my colleagues and their stories.
I attended my first Grand Meetup at Automattic last week. I recently joined, so the first day of the meetup was also my official first day at Automattic.
I had a blast and met a lot of Automatticians, something that’s extra special in a remote company during the first week of work. 🙂 I loved working on projects with new teammates and listening to a variety of Flash talks by my new colleagues. Flash talk topics included professional wrestling, Yo-yo-ing, Data Centers, My Guitars and many more.
I did make one rookie mistake though: I forgot my DSLR camera, a Canon 20D. So the gallery below is a few shots from my iPhone 5 camera.
For those that don’t know, Automattic runs WordPress.com, Jetpack, Simplenote, Cloudup and other awesome web products. Woohoo! (I keep asking my wife if it really happened. She assures me it did.) 🙂 It’s hard to put into words what this means to me, but I’ll try. It’s my dream job, yes, but it goes beyond that.
I’ve been lucky enough to work for and inside some organizations with fantastic missions. I don’t get excited unless I’m attacking big problems with a chance to drive change. From being a newspaper reporter, to working for a one of the oldest disability organizations in the United States to working with one of the United States government’s most watched and most admired “start-up” agencies, a lot of my work has been for a “greater good.” At least I hope so. 🙂 At Automattic, I get to combine a lot of the passions I’ve developed along the way: publishing, WordPress, web standards and accessibility, and open source and the open web. All for a greater good: making the web a better place.
But how can someone who builds and cares for WordPress themes do that? I wanted to be a Theme Wrangler because I believe that a good WordPress theme can open up a new world to those using it, and in turn, reveal something unique about the site’s owner to the world. A theme can become the centerpiece to someone’s story. That’s something I want to do for as many people as possible. I look forward to whatever form that takes, including helping themes evolve in new ways and bringing my accessibility experience to my every day work on WordPress.com.
The best is yet to come.