2014 at WordPress.com VIP

My colleague Steph just posted our year in review post for the WordPress.com VIP team at Automattic, and it’s a cool read if you want to see the kinds of things I work with on a daily basis:

2014 has been a big year at WordPress.com VIP. So far, we’ve served more than 28 billion pageviews (or, 28,250,403,658 the last time we checked). We’ve also added 350 new sites to the VIP network and 13 new members to our team (including an acquisition)!

As the leading WordPress solution for enterprises, we pride ourselves on working with your team to ensure that your code is optimized, secure, and fast. This year our customers have deployed changes 31,000 times, comprising more than one million lines of code—and we’ve reviewed every line. (And in case you were wondering, 4pm ET on Thursdays is the busiest hour in our deploy queue).

2014 is the first full year I’ve been on the WordPress.com VIP team, and I couldn’t be happier with the challenges we attack, the problems we solve, and the clients we serve every day. And to boot, I get to do this from wherever I want to be, working alongside some insanely intelligent and thoughtful people.

It was a good year, and more is yet to come. :)

Vacation

Working at Automattic is pretty much the gig of a lifetime. It’s the future of work: you can build your schedule as needs dictate, you get to work from anywhere, you can take time off as you need to attend to various needs and life events (for instance: I take all family birthdays off and that’s not seen as bad, but a cool thing to do), and you get to work with the greatest people.

And with that schedule freedom, it’s often tempting to not take an extended vacation. The type of self-starter who is attracted to the open work culture we have defined tends to not want to take extended time off. When you can schedule a day here and there to take care of needs, why would you disconnect for a week or two weeks at a time?

(Yes, I know what I am about to say is the way I see things and not everyone works this way.)

Taking extended time away from the day-to-day is important.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling ragged, distracted, almost out-of-it on some days. I wrangled a week where I had multiple projects converge on the same moment in time, and that week I worked several late nights and through meals during the day. I did this voluntarily—if anything, I always want to be dedicated to making sure the things I start are finished and are done right.

I even took a three-day weekend after doing this to give myself room to breathe, but in the end I had exhausted my body and mind and those things needed some extended time to think about other things and have other priorities.

I’m so fortunate to work at a company that gives me more freedom than I’ve ever had working anywhere else. The amount of time that I get to invest in being a husband and father as well as an Automattician is much greater than it would be just about anywhere else.

But for the next two weeks, I get to just be that husband. I get to focus on being Dad.1 It’s refreshing and clears the mind so it can come back and attend to the daily routine with a renewed focus and energy, which is good for everyone.

I have plans: we’re going to drive around St. Louis a lot and work on our family project of seeing all of the Cakeway to the West locations. Two of my children are finalists in a LEGO competition that is being held by the Botanical Garden. I’m taking care of things here for a few days so Amanda can go to an educational conference she wants to attend. I’m going to sit around and watch as much of Evo as I can with my kids and feel really bad about my Street Fighter IV skills for a weekend.

Last night, I started off my yearly fundraising for Extra Life with a 12-hour game marathon (that ended up being just 9 hours) that raised the first $30 for the year. I went to bed tired and exhausted, and slept in a bit longer than I would have normally.

I opened my eyes this morning to see my two-year-old daughter’s face about two inches from mine as she was climbing onto my bed. She exclaimed, “Hi, Daddy!” and then proceeded to make herself comfortable and give me hugs. She doesn’t know I’m taking two weeks off to spend more time with her.

But it was the kickoff to two weeks of recharge, and what a way to start.

No matter where you work, take the time to take time. Spend time with your family. Spend time with some books or some movies. Go somewhere you haven’t; do something you’ve never done. Grab your pack and hike into the woods or the mountains for a few days to commune with nature. Take a week or more and just spend that time being the you that you are when you aren’t working.

You’ll come back better for having done it. :)


  1. Obligatory mention that I work somewhere I feel perfectly safe leaving for two weeks; I know my teammates will take care of things and I’ll have plenty to do when I get back. 

VIP Workshop 2014 Recap

My colleague Sara just posted the “official” recap post for this year’s VIP Workshop, which I attended and at which I learned quite a bit and had a great time. A quote from the writeup that stood out to me:

We again had some great flash talks from VIP clients and partners, and this year’s presentations included talks from CBS Local, Re/code, USA Today, Digital First Media, BlueHost, The New York Times, Tribune Broadcasting, and Interactive One.

These are all top-notch clients doing amazing things with WordPress and the WordPress.com VIP service, and I get to work with them every day. I love that.

If you want to see my thoughts on the workshop, you can find them here.

Four Years

About five years ago, I took a chance and sent in a cover letter and too-thin resumé to the email address jobs@automattic.com. And then I did it twice more over the succeeding months.

A little over four years ago, two gentlemen named Michael Pick and Matt Mullenweg took a chance and gave a guy with entirely the wrong masters degree and who was working in the traditional publishing business two successive interviews and then a trial for helping to manage a thing called WordPress.tv.

A tiny bit over four years ago, Matt took a chance and gave that same guy a full-time offer to join a company that was still small, but growing. I still hadn’t met anyone from the company.

And four years ago today, I started my first day full-time at Automattic, taking a chance and leaving behind that publishing job to join a growing company, work from wherever I wanted, and get paid to work with the software I was increasingly using both inside and outside of work.

In the last four years, Automattic and I have proceeded to take successive chances both on each other and on things in general. It’s been a surreal adventure the whole way and I still have days where I sit down (or stand!) to work and wonder how I got here. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away.

And it’s taken me from working on videos for WordPress.tv, to supporting WordPress.com users in multiple forms, to my current assignment of working with some of the biggest publishers and media companies in the world hosting sites on WordPress.com VIP. (I spent my last trip to New York agape at how many buildings I saw with our clients’ logos on them. It was crazy.)

It’s been four wild years so far. I’ve met some of the most amazing people and formed some pretty great friendships along the way. Automattic is still growing, and it’s still providing me with opportunity to improve myself, learn new things, and stretch my abilities.

So, hey. Four years is a big deal. I’ve worked here longer than anywhere else now.

Here’s to many more years of amazing people, amazing opportunities, and taking chances.

The Automattic Four-Year Laptop

Next week, I’ll be celebrating four years of working at Automattic, which has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. One of the perks of reaching your four-year anniversary is being given a MacBook (Air or Pro) model of your choice, with the WordPress logo customized onto the top cover.

As it turns out, the laptops are customized/branded at Colorware, and I asked before ordering mine if I could also have it painted. The answer was yes. :)

I went for a glossy red for the main piece, glossy white for the hinge, and matte black for the top and bottom plates. So far, the consensus is that it’s pretty sweet-looking:

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It even looks pretty boss with the hinge closed, due to the fact that the main plate also covers the sides of the construction:

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Red and white mixed with black has become a bit of a color scheme for me since I started working at Automattic. When you start here, you get a bag with the logo embroidered on it:

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Originally, I’d gone this route because it matched these guys:

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And it happened to match these guys, too:

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But then at some point, it kind of turned into matching this guy/girl, which dawned on me when I bought this:

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That’s of course not the only thing I have that matches the scheme, like my iPad in black with a Product Red case:

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And my 3DS, which is in red and black:

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And my wallet, which is the image of the grandaddy of them all:

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But this new one is my favorite.

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I’ll say more on the actual anniversary, which is next week. :)

Yo, VIP. Let’s Kick It.

In just four more months, I will have been working at Automattic for four years full-time, which is one of those things that feels both like it’s been forever (because it’s such a part of who I am now) and a really short amount of time (because, you know, time flies).

When I started here, I was updating WordPress.tv as often as possible, and being a Happiness Engineer the rest of the time. After about a year of that, I moved to being a Happiness Engineer full-time.

In four years, I’ve done pretty much everything there is to do in Happiness Engineering: I’ve been in our forums, I’ve been answering tickets for WordPress.com and almost every other service we provide, I’ve been in-person at Happiness Bars and doing workshops at WordCamps, and I’ve helped train and welcome several new “classes” of Happiness Engineers to Automattic I’m happy to call colleagues. It’s been a lot of fun being sort of the Happiness Engineering Obi-Wan.

Today is my first day not being a part of that Happiness team. I’m pleased to share that I’m joining the team working on WordPress.com VIP, supporting enterprise and time-sensitive customers with that same dedication to happiness. I’ve been working a rotation with the VIP team for the past two weeks, and it’s been both rewarding and challenging. I’m looking forward to extending this into the next few years.

Matt says often that within Automattic, we should look for new things to do every few years to make sure we’re keeping the mind sharp and learning new things. If the past two weeks are any indication, this is going to be a grand new adventure. It’s wonderful to have team leads who supported this move and teammates old and new who have provided encouragement.

So here’s to new things.

If you think this sounds like a great place to work, it is. And we’re hiring.

Automattic Sign Time-lapse

My main man Warren set up a GoPro outside the new Automattic office space in San Francisco as the new sign was placed on the building.

I’m already trying to concoct a reason for me to be in San Francisco so I can see the place and enjoy the new digs. I always enjoyed going to SF and just working from our “home away from home” on Pier 38. The new place looks great and I can’t wait to be there.

The Automattic Creed

Matt shared on his blog the Automattic Creed, which is how my colleagues and I live and breathe on a daily basis:

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.

Working for with Automattic has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and certainly the best job I’ve ever had. I love what I do and the impact I have in making the experience of WordPress.com users and visitors better each day.

If you’re reading this and think this sounds interesting, maybe you should consider applying.

Keeping Things Moving

As an Automattician, I spend the vast majority of my time working from home. This has its advantages and disadvantages, like anything else, but I didn’t think of my physical activity (or lack thereof) in quite the right way until I saw this tweet from my colleague Beau:

http://twitter.com/#!/beaulebens/status/113780084149719040

For reasons that I plan to write about soon, I have been taking a long-overdue look at my habits throughout the day in an effort to improve them and their effects on my overall health. It’s no secret that it’s not a great thing for you to be sitting down all day long.

I know this because the best shape I’ve been in for the last 10 years or so was when I was working retail at Circuit City. Being on your feet for 10 hours at a stretch and walking a store floor will do that to you. Once I shifted to a desk job, I quickly ballooned to over 300 pounds until I hit a high of around 325 in the last couple of years.

(I have since dropped a good amount of weight but that will need to wait for that other post I was talking about.)

What I have been using for about the last year or so to keep myself from getting leg cramps is a little utility called AntiRSI. It sits in your dock (and with the newest version, can sit in your menu bar instead) and has a configurable set of controls for taking breaks.

The options are pretty straightforward:

I don’t use it for the micro breaks as I don’t have any issues with strain (yet) and they were interrupting my flow a bit. Instead, I use it to force myself to take an eight-minute break every 50 minutes (so about every hour). When the 50 minutes of work are up, this appears and won’t go away unless I dismiss it, which I try very hard not to do:

When that appears, I do exactly what it says. The important part is that I stand up when prompted for a work break and walk around a bit. I check on how the kids are doing in school, take a biobreak, refill my water, or any one of a number of things, but (a) don’t work and (2) stay standing and moving as much as possible. Sometimes I will set an eight minute timer on my iPhone and take a walk outside. I walk past the desk every so often to see if the break is up, and when it is I sit back down and get to it.

Now I read tonight that I might not be getting up enough. And it’s possible that using a standing desk (which I have considered) is getting up too much. This is of course only one source of information on this, and you can always find a study or paper that agrees with you, but:

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes.  Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

You can read the original text here.

So maybe I will give 30 minute intervals with smaller breaks a shot and see how it goes for a while. I’m thinking 5 minutes’ break every 30 minutes or so.

Do you have a method that works for you? Something you do to stay active throughout the day? I would love to hear about it.