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.  ↩

The difference between failure and success when job hunting

Shona Owen published a post on Medium titled “Inspiration from a Joker” about her search for a job and her realization that failure is inevitable. I decided to expand on my initial response here.

View story at Medium.com

I’m in a similar position. I’ve been job-hunting for almost 5 months now and, reading Shona’s post, thought a little more about success and failure in the context of my search for work.

I have a very long list of companies that I have applied to. Many of those companies are terrific companies and anyone would be fortunate to be employed by them. I also have a somewhat shorter list of companies that invited me to interviews, and a fair amount of frustration and disappointment on the side.

Failure is inevitable

Failure is definitely part of the process, it almost seems to define it. It’s more likely that most of your applications will fail. If you measure success by being employed, failure is probably going to be all to familiar to you.

The real challenge is how you respond to this apparent failure. I saw “apparent failure” because, although the ultimate success of a job hunt is being employed, it isn’t the only category of success in this arduous process.

Success often goes unnoticed

Each new application you send, despite knowing that it will most likely not result in an offer, is a success. Why? Because it means you haven’t succumbed to the feeling that your efforts are in vain.

Every CV you send out is an act of defiance, a statement that it will take more than that additional “… we are moving forward with other candidates …” to shut you down.

Some days, writing a motivation to support yet another job application feels like trying to stand when your personal gravity field has increased tenfold. Getting that done and clicking “Send” is not another admission of defeat, it is another little success because you are still standing.

I started responding to particularly disappointing rejections with a private refusal to accept defeat (well, after first expressing appreciation to the company concerned for considering my application). I’d make a point of going back to the job listings I track and finding at least one or two relevant positions and sending my CV off.

Somehow, it seemed important to immediately continue my search after a rejection. It doesn’t make the rejection ok but taking another step forward means it is simply another milestone along the way.

Thinly veiled successes

So, on one hand job-hunting is a process characterised by repeated failure. On the other hand, it is, in itself, fueled by a series of small wins and successes. These somehow sustain you until you eventually receive an offer you can live with (or, better yet, that thrills you) or you abandon the idea of formal employment altogether and leap into the entrepreneurial jungle[1].

At times whether you perceive rejections as personal failures or successes can make a profound difference to whether you get back up and take another step forward.

You can rarely change an adverse decision taken against you but you can always change your response to the decision. Make the choice that sustains you.

Featured image credit: David Marcu


  1. That is another dimension of success and failure altogether …  ↩

Stop taking detailed notes in meetings

Making notesKhoi Vinh’s post titled “Remembering What’s Important After Meetings” touches on a better approach to participating in meetings and highlights a pretty useful IFTTT applet to facilitate that.

For one thing, taking copious notes in meetings isn’t always the best approach. You risk focusing too much on your notes and missing opportunities to be meaningfully participate in the meeting and just be present.

Instead, he recommends making note of the meeting highlights afterwards:

This advice absolved me of the pressure I previously felt to write down everything. Without that distraction, I’ve been able to generally stay more focused and absorb more of what’s said in meetings. And with fewer notes, the act of searching them later becomes much easier too.

I tend to take a lot of notes in meetings and capture those notes into Evernote afterwards for future reference. I prefer handwritten notes because I’ve read that handwritten notes tend to be more conducive to actually absorbing what you are writing about.

As useful as it is to have comprehensive notes of your meetings, I’ve also noticed that other meeting participants tend to find it a little frustrating sitting opposite someone who seems to be writing down everything they say instead of being part of the conversation.

Something to think about in my next meeting.

Image credit: Stickler Mule

Critical steps to get things done when you clearly lack focus

How to get things done

We live in a wondrous technological age that also makes it harder to get things done. This is a challenge when you have a lot of things to do. Obviously.

Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to be more productive. Here is my list for tomorrow morning.

Step 1: Silence reminders

I love that I can set, snooze and gaze fondly at reminders on my phone. I also really like how Google Calendar can help me schedule time to achieve goals such as learning Hebrew, how to code in Python and do my weekly reviews.

It’s all great.

The problem is that these reminders tend to chime at the same time when I am in the middle of some or other task. That is mostly my fault because I don’t really think through the timing for my reminders when I set them.

My first step is going to be clearer about when I need to block off time to finish a task. With that done (possibly by blocking off the time in my calendar), I can set my reminders for “unreserved” times.

Step 2: Email should know its place

I know better than to keep checking email throughout my morning whenever my phone informs me that I have received more email. Sadly, I have forgotten the importance of batching this sort of stuff.

Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or "How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity")

My next step is to remind myself to keep my email tabs closed until I reach my designated time slots dedicated to checking my email and other batch-able tasks.

Step 3: Be antisocial

I should have paid attention to Catherine Jenkin’s Facebook/Twitter hiatus. She clearly had the right idea.

https://twitter.com/cathjenkin/status/852071262914531328

Although I am tempted to take an extended break from social media, I probably won’t. What I can, and must, do is severely limit how much time I spend on social when I need to focus on my work.

I am also going to keep WhatsApp and Skype closed. Yes, people contact me through those apps and some of those conversations are even work-related. But do I need to keep the apps open all the time and check them obsessively? Probably not.

I can batch this stuff too.

So, step 3 is resisting the idiotic urge to open Facebook/Twitter/Google+ (yes, it is an equal opportunity, time-wasting urge) when I should be focused on the task at hand. That goes for WhatsApp and Skype too.

https://twitter.com/cathjenkin/status/856187110784675840

Step 4: Quiet, you beast!

One of the biggest culprits is my phone. It notifies me about everything. My phone finds everything just so exciting that it has to tell me immediately.

Lacking discipline and willpower, I pull my attention away from what I am working on and check my screen far too often. Each time I do that, I break whatever flow I’ve managed to cultivate and cost me additional time restoring my focus on what I was doing in the first place.

This sort of thing does not constitute “winning” when you need to get things done.

Fortunately, my phone has a handy “Do Not Disturb” mode that silences notifications from anyone outside my family members. It also silences incoming phone calls, which can be a challenge in itself, but the benefits may outweigh the downsides.

Step 4 is going to be to switch my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and cut out most of those little interruptions that pour in throughout the day.

Note to self (2017-04-26): Create an exception for event notifications so you don’t inadvertently miss the important, scheduled events you need to attend!

https://twitter.com/cathjenkin/status/856187258839457792

Right, so that is the plan for tomorrow and, quite possibly, all the other work days that follow.

I hear that it can be pretty rewarding when you actually get things done when you mean to.

Featured image credit: Veri Ivanova

Ok Google, show me how to get things done

I recently switched to an Android device. I have a post in the works that I may eventually finish and publish. Until then, I still need to get things done and, like I pointed out in my post “The tools I use to be productive with ADHD”, my big challenge has been to migrate from iOS/macOS-centric workflows to something more cross-platform.

When it comes to picking a solution to manage my tasks, I went with OmniFocus. It was practically designed for GTD and I can use it on all my devices. It isn’t cheap and it only works on macOS/iOS (the platform limitation bothers me but I can live with it). At the same time, it is excellent software and nothing really comes close to it.

My first challenge was which task manager to use for my tasks. I started exploring alternatives such as Remember the Milk and Todoist but the thought of reinventing my whole system wasn’t a happy one. Still, I experimented with them a bit and even started migrating tasks to RTM.

Fortunately, I discovered the Focus GTD app for Android that syncs with my OmniFocus data in the cloud. The design isn’t as polished as OmniFocus but the main thing is that the app syncs reliably with my OmniFocus data and I don’t need to recreate anything to keep going.

Lately I’ve been playing around a bit with some Google options for getting things done. In particular, Google’s Reminders that integrate with Google Inbox (which I don’t really use, I prefer Gmail), Google Calendar and Google Keep.

It’s not that Focus GTD doesn’t work. It does. The notifications could be better but the app does what it says on the box and it saved me hours of recreating a GTD workflow with another app or service.

Mostly, I’m curious about the Google option because they are cross-platform, cross-device and are pretty native to my Android phone.

Google’s integrations

Google’s approach to productivity is to combine everything, where possible. Makes sense; Google wants us to use its services more. The Google approach is pretty different in many ways.

I’m accustomed to a task manager being distinct from my calendar and email. Google’s approach is to bring it all together and even go so far as to use your email interface as your task manager (specifically, Google Inbox).

By contrast, my OmniFocus workflow is more about using a standalone task manager as the focal point of my productivity system with email being just one input. Calendars are where you record tasks or events that are date sensitive and everything else goes into a general task service that you review regularly and maintain on an ongoing basis.

Still, the Google productivity suite that comprises Calendar, Gmail/Inbox and Keep is intriguing because it is better integrated with my phone (probably my primary device overall) and is largely OS independent.

So I started using Reminders in Google Calendar this week just to see how they would work for me.

I also started playing around a bit with Calendar’s Goals feature. I’m curious to see if this approach will help me achieve those goals more effectively. I also really want to see just how smart the machine learning behind goal-related task scheduling is when it is tied into my calendar.

Keep is another part of the overall mix. I’ve read a few articles about how to implement GTD with Keep (such as this article in Wired and this one by Clayton Glasser) and it certainly seems feasible. The only thing about Keep is that it seems like a weak replacement for Evernote for me.

At the same time, Evernote isn’t really a task app for me. As I mentioned in my productivity post, Evernote is my reference system with almost 27 000 notes about just about everything in my life. Reconfiguring Evernote to handle my tasks as well as function as my reference service would be messy so I haven’t really explored that.

Method behind the madness

That brings me back to my experiment with Google services for get things done. The linchpin when it comes to OmniFocus is currently my MacBook Air.

If I reach a stage where I can’t use a MacBook every day for work, it will become that much harder to maintain an OmniFocus-centric productivity system. Focus GTD is good but relying on that completely while a work machine doesn’t support it adds a lot more friction to being productive.

This is a real concern for me. I am currently looking for a new job and it is rare to be offered a MacBook by a new employer. My MacBook Air has been my primary work machine for most of my time in Israel but the battery has failed and I think it’s time to give my trusty device a vacation.

My next work machine will likely be a Windows-based or, preferably, Linux machine. Neither will support OmniFocus so this seemingly academic debate about which productivity system to switch to isn’t going to be academic for very long (I hope).

A big plus in the Google column is that the apps it uses are free and available on whichever device I am likely to use. Of course, there is a reason for that. Not only does Google want to keep us actively using as many of its services as is possible, it uses the data from and about our interactions to build and improve its services (including ad targeting) overall.

One day we may see the true cost of that and it may bother us. For now, though, it seems like a fair exchange: we get stuff to help us get things done fairly effectively and Google receives a lot of data it can use to create more things and deliver really accurate ads.

Ok Google, help me be more productive

A lot of this experimentation is about experiencing all the things Google services can do. I’m still getting used to using Google’s voice stuff and it’s pretty impressive. I don’t have Google Assistant yet but I’m sure that will be even better.

I’m not sure if Google Reminders/Keep/Calendar will be a viable replacement for OmniFocus but it seems to be worth exploring. What do you think? Do you use Google services to get things done?

Image credit: Lauren Mancke