Today marks four years since I started full time at Automattic.
I remember so vividly my trial; I worked nights and weekends (though I took Sundays off) for four weeks. The twins had just turned one, and for the better part of four weeks, Bob was alone for baths, stories, and bedtime. It was a lot of work for both of us!
Now, of course, the twins are five and we have Grant, who just turned five months. We have settled into North Carolina, a far cry from the dark and frigid New York December where I sat down in my chilly spare room-cum-office to start my first official day, with my ancient, creaking MacBook. My computer was so old, the battery no longer worked, and was slowly swelling. I had removed it from my computer and put it in a Ziploc bag because I wasn’t sure what else to do with it (I eventually figured it out). My computer was so slow, it took maybe 25-30 seconds to open a single webpage. I don’t actually know how I was able to work on it at all, but I expect sheer determination played a role.
When I think of my trial, every memory is sort of infused with this sense of almost monastic dimness and solemnity. There’s a pretty sharp thread of desperation, as well. The contrasting emotions were intense – how well was I doing? What if I passed my trial? What if I didn’t? I couldn’t contemplate what would happen if I didn’t pass, but that didn’t mean I thought I would pass. I certainly hoped I would, and I worked as hard as I could towards that goal, but I felt like it was too good to be true to get this far, and it would all be taken away.
So I worked after dark, which comes early anyway in New York in October and November (when I did my trial), in the spare room of our 1920s house, which was drafty back then. Most of my time was spent on answering support tickets, and learning so much I felt my brain was melting. When I got stuck, I’d ask for help in IRC and met other Automatticians, as well as other trials. I found that the lines of text in IRC had personalities, replete with kindness, biting humor, and wealths of knowledge to make kings salivate. Sometimes I got myself lost in my own head, and asked questions without really working through them myself first. I always got called on this kind of laziness, and learned not to do it. I learned how to learn, in a way that six years of college helped prepare me for, but did not teach me.
Every week, I chatted with my trial lead, Andrew, and he would tell me what had gone well and what I needed to improve. He would also tell me what I’d screwed up. Having sat in on a trial process now, and having done ticket reviews for my entire team, I can tell you that it is a tough job. It can be monotonous, and sometimes it can bring to light some hard truths about the Happiness Engineer you are reviewing. Then you need to have a difficult conversation. I look back on my trial as a time when difficult conversations were had with me, and I would be damned if I didn’t systematically eliminate the faults that brought those conversations around. I am still far from perfect, and I certainly make the same mistakes now, but they are fewer and further apart and I take pains to correct them myself.
My trial taught me a lot about WordPress and about Automattic, and a lot about myself and my capacities. During my trial, a door was opened. When I was hired, that door continued to open, and that continues to this day. I learned to accept that I can Do It Wrong, and if someone cares enough to tell me, I owe it to both of us to learn from it. I learned to have a voice and trust it. Having a voice is a big responsibility, and using it judiciously is vital to making it signal more than noise. Packaged with that responsibility is fostering others’ voices – listening is the other half of speaking.
I learned that wanting to be the best is a journey without an end. Working at improving your craft has no upper limit. If you meet someone you can’t learn from, you are missing something.
The past four years have been in dedication of the Automattic creed:
I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. 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. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.
And yes, we are hiring.