The lonely side of remote work

Rian linked to an interesting article about the challenges of working remotely titled “What Most Remote Companies Don’t Tell You About Remote Work“. I started reading it to get a sense of it, then sent it to my Pocket queue to read later.

This is how the article begins, it will give you an idea of what to expect:

Articles about the remote work lifestyle have tended to focus on drinking piña coladas on the beach, traveling the world, and otherwise enjoying a life that inspires envy in your social media following.

This is not one of those articles.

As an Automattician, I work completely remotely, although I’ve chosen to work from home. I think I’m pretty well suited to remote work. I much prefer working remotely to being in an office environment. There are downsides, sure, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges, at least for me.

The irrational demand that you commute to work

Demanding a commute when there is no other reason to be in a specific location apart from your bosses insecurities is not a good enough reason.

Source: Valentina on remote work and location independence

The Explainer

A big part of my role as a Happiness Engineer at Automattic is explaining stuff to our users. I have a knack for it, particularly when it comes to email support.

I commented to some colleagues today that I should change my job title to “Explainer” (we can basically choose our job titles at Automattic). One of them came up with this awesome mashup:

The Explainer

I had to share it. It’s awesome!

Getting Stuff Done with Interstitial Journaling

Coach Tony’s post titled Replace Your To-Do List With Interstitial Journaling To Increase Productivity is a pretty interesting take on productivity.

During your day, journal every time you transition from one work project to another. Write a few sentences in your journal about what you just did, and then a few more sentences about what you’re about to do.

Rather than just working through a list of tasks in your task manager, the idea seems to be to maintain an ongoing narrative of your day. A benefit of this approach is a pretty high degree of mindfulness.

Journaling as you work produces mindfulness about your context, goals, mood, and skills.

Another aspect of this approach that appeals to me is how it incorporates elements of the GTD approach to getting your stuff done. One of those elements is clearing your mind by getting whatever is occupying it out of your mind and onto paper (digital or physical).

The Interstitial Journaling tactic solves all of these normal problems. It kills procrastination, empties our brain of the last project, and then gives us space to formulate an optimal strategy for our next project.

When you write about the task you’ve just completed, and then about the upcoming task, you’re transitioning more fully from the completed task to the next task. At least, that seems to be the idea.

I also just like the idea of maintaining a pretty deliberate account of my days. This feels like something worth attempting, at the very least.

I’ve started incorporating Evernote into my Remember the Milk workflow through a handy integration, so Evernote seems like a convenient choice for the journaling too. I’ll try it out this week and see how it goes.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

I’m Joining Automattic – Excitement Factor Bazillion

When I turned 42, I had a feeling that this year would be different for me. Actually, it was more than just a feeling, I had already started a process that has come to fruition.

I’ve had opportunities to interview at some of today’s most exciting companies

Starting on Monday, 19 February, I am joining Automattic as a Happiness Engineer. I’m beyond excited!

My journey, so far

I applied for the position in October last year. The position looked interesting, and it seemed like something I’d been doing to help out for years. Sure, it was different to any other position I’d worked in the past but it looked like a great opportunity to pursue.

Above all, it was an opportunity to join one of my dream companies.

I had my first assignment and interview about a month later. That was followed by another assignment, and a second interview shortly before my birthday. As you can imagine, that all went well because I received the best birthday present from someone outside my family: an offer to start a Trial.

A Trial is part of the interview process. It’s a paid opportunity to work at Automattic so both you and the company can get a good feel for you in the role. Automattic pays $25 an hour, which makes a huge difference. It gives you the space you need to really dive in and do the best you can.

I started thinking about the Trial like this: Automattic had given me an opportunity to work as a Happiness Engineer. I had almost the same level of access to just about everything that a full time Happiness Engineer had. I had the best possible chance I would have to prove to Automattic that I was worthy of keeping this new role.

Because I was freelancing, I decided to commit fully and set aside the four and a half weeks I’d need, and threw myself into it. I worked harder than I had for just about anything else in my working life, and I loved it.

It was challenging, there was a tremendous learning curve, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing people I’ve met. I was fortunate in that I could treat my Trial like a full-time job. I was part of a group of a dozen and a half people who didn’t all share the same luxury.

Not all of them made it through the Trial, for various reasons. All of them inspired me to keep improving, keep learning, and deliver more happiness with each interaction I had, whether that was with our users, or my fellow Automatticians.

My buddy, Rynaldo, and my Trial Lead, Daniel, gave me great feedback throughout my Trial. They guided me from the start and I owe some of my success to them. I also received so much help from other Automatticians who were doubtless incredibly busy, but who took the time to guide me to the answers I needed. Having the opportunity to work and learn from them is easily one of the best parts of working for Automattic.

There is so much more about the work that I love. It’s difficult to express it all. I spend my days learning, helping users with a wide variety of issues, improving my skills, gaining insights from people I admire … the list just goes on.

And then it became official

When I finished my Trial a week ago, and Daniel told me that the hiring team was recommending me to the HR team, I actually cried tears of joy. It was an incredible feeling.

This morning, I had my chat with an HR Wrangler and, before I knew it, I was official. I’ve been on a cloud for most of today, and I suspect this feeling is going to last a bit longer.

One of the first things you read when you start your Trial is “Welcome to the chaos”, followed by:

The only correct approach is to embrace the chaos, not fight it.

That pretty much covers how Automattic works (and it does, so incredibly well). We are a distributed team, working from all over the world in our homes, coffee shops, co-working spaces, camp sites, and more. We use Slack and internal blogs called P2s to communicate, share information, and keep connected.

Somehow the chaos doesn’t detract from just how effective everyone is.

I frequently found myself just amazed at how incredible everyone is at their jobs, and wondering whether I was worthy enough to join them.

My answer to my Imposter Syndrome was to ask myself this question: “Why not? I made it this far. Even if I don’t see it yet, the hiring team saw my potential and I owe it to them, and to myself, to realise that potential. So, why not me?”

As much as I achieved through hard work, and perseverence, I still believe I owe some of that success to the remarkable people who helped me along the way. They inspire me, they are my heroes, and I am grateful to them.

If you’d like to read a few more perspectives on working for Automattic, and their journeys, here are some of the stories that lit the way for me:


Oh, and by the way, we’re hiring! Join us. 😁

An awesome thread about developers’ careers

Stephanie Hurlburt asked for stories from developers about their career paths on Twitter, and it quickly became one of the best threads I’ve read in a while. As you can imagine, I have a particular interest in stories about other developers’ careers given my journey this year. This thread didn’t disappoint.

I started reading the thread when I woke up this morning and, boy, what a great way to start a day.

The rat race and our search for Happiness

Steve Cutts‘ video titled “Happiness” is disturbingly accurate portrayal of so many aspects of our daily lives. When I watch this video, I can’t help but wonder why we buy into all these promises of happiness, and chase them so relentlessly?

Cutts’ work seems to capture so much of the futility of so much of what we do to achieve happiness in our lives. There is a better way to live our lives. Realising that and shifting our perspective isn’t as easy as it seems, though.

42

Today is my birthday. I’m 42.

I’ve never been a “well, a birthday is just another number” person. To me, each birthday is a special day, an event to celebrate.

I usually celebrate my birthdays with a “Me Day” if the day falls mid-week. Last year I took the day off, watched one of my favourite movies, and went for a photowalk around my city.

Living in interesting times

This year has been an interesting one, to say the least. I’ve been thinking about what to write about it for a couple months and, as I sit here writing this, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

I left my job at InboundJunction in March (it didn’t work out for a couple reasons and my contract was terminated), and I’ve been looking for a job since then. I started doing some freelance marketing work around the same time but my main focus has been on my search for a fulltime position.

As I write this, I’ve applied for 148 positions (I have 67 current applications). Many of the companies I’ve approached and interviewed at, are remarkable companies. One thing that has struck me during my job search is just how many amazing opportunities there are here in Israel.

Granted, not all of those companies are my dream employers but those companies are in the distinct minority. Whatever may be going on in the rest of the world, Israel is buzzing.

Code, the Universe and Everything

One of the benefits of the Israeli social net is about 7 months of unemployment benefits to help get you back on your feet. You can’t retire on the monthly payments but they give you some breathing room.

Rather than spending my time watching Netflix in between job applications, interviews, and occasional freelance work, I started learning to code in earnest. I started with HTML (I knew some HTML but my knowledge was patchy), moved on to CSS, and just kept going.

Although I’ve wanted to learn to code for decades (literally), I never really got around to it (aside from developing a proficiency in MultiMarkdown, and picking up a little Python 2.7.x last year). Being unemployed with time on my hands gave me the perfect opportunity.

A couple factors pushed me off my procrastination ledge. One was seeing our son learning basic JavaScript on Code.org earlier this year. Another was watching a friend of ours spend a few minutes showing us a few simple (yet awesome) command line “tricks”. Then, there is this terrific video from Code.org:

Learning to code has helped me realise that code creates possibilities. Like Karlie Kloss said, “understanding coding is … like a superpower”. It takes from a place where you wish “someone” made that thing you want, to be able to make it yourself.

My journey that started with <!doctype html> has taken me through a fantastic world where, using a text editor and an Internet connection, you can build amazing things. Here are a few of the languages I’ve learned (in varying degrees):

  • HTML;
  • CSS;
  • JavaScript (including Node.js, React and Ember);
  • WordPress-oriented PHP;
  • Shell scripting (I’ve learned to love the command line);
  • Build tools like gulp, npm scripting, and even a little Webpack and grunt; and
  • Git.

I feel like I’m just getting started. There is far more that I don’t know (and want to learn). And yet each time I write code that does something, it’s thrilling!

Along the way I’ve created projects that use what I’ve learned. They include little ones like this birthday site I created for our son when he turned 10, and bigger ones like Modiin Bus (currently being overhauled as I learn).

My coding journey has consumed me. There is always something to learn, code to improve, and projects to build. My personal writing and photography have taken a back seat (as you may have noticed). At the same time, I’ve gained so much in the process.

For one thing, learning to code opens the door to a whole new line of work for me. Rather than being limited to content marketing, I can explore web development roles too[1], and everything in between.

Mostly Househusband

One of the huge perks of my protracted job search is being home for most of the year. It’s almost given my wife and I an opportunity switch traditional roles.

She goes to work (as an awesome account manager at mySupermarket) and I take the kids to school, handle much of the housework[2], manage play-dates and after-school activities.

Being unemployed also made the annual school summer vacation (2 months!) so much easier to handle, logistically, because I was around to take and fetch from holiday camps, and be with the kids when they were just on vacation.

Although the challenges of my job search haven’t always been conducive to recognising the gifts of my current status, the experience of working from home all this time has highlighted what is most important to me.

Rather than never being around due to the demands of an intensive career that keeps me away from home, I’ve been around to watch our kids grow up over the last year.

It’s been a busy period, for sure. I am definitely not the type of person who’ll toss in a load of laundry and veg out till the kids come home. I’m constantly learning more code in between my freelance work, job search, and being here for our kids.

In the meantime, Gina’s career is blooming. She moved into a new account management role a few months ago and is awesome at it. I’m proud of her and of what she’s accomplished. If me being home has given her a little more space to do that, then this is yet another benefit.

So long, and thanks for all the .zsh

Of course, it didn’t escape me that there is something special about this birthday.

While I don’t have all the answers (not even remotely), perhaps being 42 brings a few answers to the questions that I haven’t been able to answer so far.

At the very least, I feel like I have a better grasp on what’s really important, and what isn’t. Regardless of where I may find myself working (hopefully soon), I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this year to learn, grow (a little), and be more present (mostly).

Ultimately, living in Israel (and in most of the world) generally means that both of us need to earn an income. So, my search continues. I love coding[3], I’ve had opportunities to interview at some of today’s most exciting companies, and there is still so much more to do.

I don’t know what lies ahead in 2018 but, as I keep reminding myself when I find myself slipping into Regretsville, we only really have the present moment. Sometimes, the moment we are in can be source of boundless opportunities.

It might even hold the answers we seek.


  1. Roughly half of my current job applications are for coding positions.  ↩
  2. Gina still does most of the cooking.  ↩
  3. Even when it frustrates me, when I suddenly can’t remember how to string a function together, or both.  ↩