On Work, Life, and Leaving Automattic

Thank you note to Automattic, the best place to work.

I’m fortunate to have spent most of my adult life at Automattic. You see, it was my top choice for a company to work for back in 2007, and in retrospect I’m so proud that I ended up here.

Automattic is a very real representation of my life, the way I’ve lived, loved, and gone about my days. A way of living that, in some regards, I started in middle school.

A little background: up until high school I attended a Montessori school. Like all schools, they have to teach a predefined curriculum, but this doesn’t stipulate how teach it. For us it meant a lot of “free project time” where we’d work on any subject we wanted from a grand list.

We could either work on a project or goof around.

While I’d struggle to get started, I took great pleasure in seeing these projects come together. Some of our finished papers were ledgers, detailing how the Roman empire worked or gave an overview of all the religions currently present on earth.

Every time I’m doing spring cleaning I come across these masterpieces and I can’t bear myself to throw them away. Many even had spiffy title pages!

Work, Life

Being able to manage your own time and work on projects you actually care about are for me the fundamentals in a healthy work-life relationship. It gives you the power to lead a life that’s true to you.

In a world where 1’s and 0’s are just shuffled around, there’s no need to commute to work. Any screen around you is now a computer. The time you save working from wherever you are instead of wherever you’re supposed to be is time saved to pursue your passions and lead a more healthy and productive life — both professionally and personally. This means more time for family, friends, pet-projects, but also time to do excellent professional work of better quality.

Humans are not great at dealing with stress in the workplace. If you’re able to prioritize your work yourself, in an open environment like your home, it means that the time you save is your time. You decide what to do in your own time. Maybe you go make a delicious cup of tea, or you spend another hour reviewing and perfecting the code you just wrote.

Here’s the kicker: However you spend your extra time, both your life and your work will benefit.

Tea reinvigorates the soul and makes you less stressed or more alert. Perfecting your craft makes you more confident and instigates pride. Whatever you do with your own time, make it worthwhile and true to you.

Leaving Automattic

Imagine having time to “Always Be Charging”.

I spent 7 years working for Automattic. It’s a testament to how great of a workplace it really is.

I’ve managed my own time.

I’ve been able to pursue projects I like.

I’ve been able to switch roles within the company multiple times.

I’ve travelled the world*, met coworkers and people from the larger WordPress community.

I’ve been able to practice speaking in front of audiences at conferences and company meetups.

I’ve not had to stress about time or money.

I’ve learned valuable communication and leadership skills.

I’ve had time for friends and family when I needed them or they needed me.

I’ve been happy.

I’m leaving Automattic for personal reasons. While I love it here, after 7 years and most of my 20’s I want to do something different. Maybe work some place where they don’t have it all figured out, and help them get there. Maybe I’ll pursue creative projects that inherently don’t have any monetary return. I want to travel and learn more about other ways of living your life.

I also wouldn’t mind going to Mars. Just saying.

I’d like to thank Matt Mullenweg and Toni Schneider who believed in me and helped me grow as a person through all these years. I’ll always be grateful to you, and I only wish the very best for you and Automattic.

To all my fellow Automatticians** that I’ve grown so fond of over the years: thank you for making my everyday life at Automattic fun, inspiring, creative, and life-changing. You are some of the most talented people I’ll ever meet, and I know that you’re on the right path. Keep making the world better.

Thank you.
– Isaac

PS.

* Some random pictures, because why not

** Slang for a person that works at Automattic, also commonly referred to as A12n or A13s in addreviated singular and plural forms, respectively.

PPS. Automattic is hiring.

I’m a Product Designer

Mural in Copenhagen, DenmarkSince 2010 I’ve been the Team Lead and part time designer for the Mobile Team at Automattic. My role changed a bit over time and while I learned a lot, after three years it was time for a change.

A week ago I took on the role as designer on the Data team. The Data team is working on things like the Stats panel, Notifications, and sharing options. For me, this means thinking about ways to make publishers and readers alike happier whenever they come back to WordPress.com.

My passion for creating thought-through experiences through pixel perfect design was the reason I got into the web design business in the first place. First with a small web studio, then as the co-founder of IntenseDebate. After TechStars and getting acquired by Automattic in 2008, I spent another two years focusing on the design aspects of IntenseDebate and other services around WordPress.com.

Working with the Mobile folks at Automattic is one of the most challenging and fun experiences I’ve ever had. They’re all great guys, and very good at what they do. I found myself spending all my time thinking about ways we could improve on the mobile WordPress experience as well as how to make the team function the best it could.

I realized not long ago that I was so caught up in the mobile side of WordPress that I stopped having ideas and streaks of inspiration for other sides of what Automattic does, and where the industry is heading at large. Sure, I’ve been opinionated and very vocal about things like front-end editing, having a great onboarding experience, or about the need to figure out how to to give readers better content — just to name a few. But it’s about staying ahead of the curve. Very rarely did I have a “Heureka!” moment.

Maybe I should soak in the tub more often.

The last few days I hung out with the lead of the Data team, Martin Remy, in Copenhagen, Denmark. We ended up walking around the city and hanging out in cafes while talking about the state of things. Both within the team and WordPress.com at large. Being the “new” guy I was glad I was able to provide some perspective on past decisions and brainstorm about the future.

I can’t wait to get to work on some of the things we discussed.

Heart statue in a shady district in Copenhagen, Denmark

I’ve been with Automattic for 5 ½ years now, and I’m still growing as a person. I’m still challenged and allowed to try new things. It’s a great place to be.

If you think you have what it takes, we want you to join us.

WordPress 3.8 is Here and Why It’s a Big Deal

Version 3.8 of WordPress was a long time coming. It may seem like yesterday that 3.7 came out, but the 3.8 dev cycle started many months ago in parallel.

WordPress-3-8-is-here-overview

I contributed to the MP6 plugin a little early on, mainly helping make the admin responsive. Others became more involved and crafted a truly beautiful experience. That’s WordPress, we’re all in it together.

A New Release Strategy

wordpress-plugin-dev-cycle

The most interesting part about the 3.8 release is the way it was created. It was the first time the core WordPress group tried developing in separate plugins that could then be merged into a full release. If a plugin wasn’t ready by the time the code freeze rolled around, it would simply be punted to the next release. This is clever because it allows WordPress to be developed more fluidly and should result in more frequent and refined releases over time.

Updating a large software project can easily become a drawn-out process when large groups of people have to sign off on every decision. Thanks to smaller teams based around plugins much of this could be sped up in 3.8, and the barrier to entry was significantly lower as a result. Most of the everyday discussions could happen in realtime and decisions were generally reported upon instead of being surveyed for.

If the model is kept, more users will be able to get involved as contributors. They will have the power and incentive to do better work and to contribute more often. This will enable WordPress to stay as active as possible while making sure the quality of the product doesn’t devaluate over time.

We’re doing something similar with the mobile WordPress apps: major iterations and feature additions are developed in parallel so that they can be merged whenever they’re ready, which marks the next point release. This has worked great for us as well.

A Responsive Admin

WordPress-3-8-responsive-admin

It’s as important that you can access your entire site from mobile as it is for your visitors to be able to read your content. 3.8 makes this possible. It’s not a perfect experience (lots of information in a small space!) but it’s a great first step.

The beauty of any responsive interface is that it doesn’t just benefit one particular set of devices, but does its best to stay usable wherever in any context it’s displayed. This means that the WordPress admin is now fully functional on any smart phone, tablet or computer. For example if you resize your browser window on your laptop to be able to see both the Post Editor and the preview at the same time, you now won’t feel claustrophobic since the editor resizes beautifully.

A Professional Default Theme

WordPress-3-8-twenty-fourteen-theme

The Twenty Fourteen theme is an unprecedented occurrence: it’s an out-of-the-box gorgeous magazine-like theme that is especially well suited for businesses and publications. It’s responsive, powerful, and versatile. Where previous themes shipped with WordPress have been gorgeous on their own, they’ve also been either focused on bloggers or site owners willing to get down into the gritty details to make it their own. Twenty Fourteen stands out and is the perfect companion for 3.8.

We’ve Only Just Begun

Go update WordPress now. Then go make the future happen.

WordPress is Mobile – 2012 WordCamp Netherlands presentation

Last year I presented at WordCamp Netherlands for the second year in a row. It’s one of my favorite WordCamps mainly because of the incredible community that surrounds it. Dutch people just seem to be on the ball with almost everything that’s going on at any given point.

It’s taken a while for the video to surface, and while the audio isn’t great it’s a presentation I’m proud of nonetheless.

[wpvideo raZQlGdN w=640]

If you’re interested, the slides are available on SlideShare.