It Was Grand


Nearly 400 Automatticians descended on Park City, Utah, earlier this month for our annual Grand Meetup (GM). The intense in-person time together helps forge new bonds and reinforces personal connections that stay with us through our daily remote work after returning home. Here are a few highlights of my week.

Practical Development

I spent the first few days of the Grand Meetup immersed a programming class taught by Code Wrangler Jennifer. I refreshed my PHP coding skills and flexed brain muscles that haven’t had quite such a workout in some time. Jennifer possesses a rare gift – she’s not just a highly skilled developer, but she also has the ability to share that knowledge with others in an accessible way. I was lucky to be part of her group.

Collect Them All

My fellow Happiness Engineer Karen put together a set of colourful badges to represent the different teams and aspects of tech support we’ve each worked on. Some are just for fun; +t+d stands for “totes def” and somehow became a common abbreviation internally at one point. They remind me of the Red Cross swimming badges I used to get as a kid. Now to decide where best to show them off.

Happiness Badges

Yarn Party

Any Automattician can organize an activity or workshop for their colleagues at the Grand Meetup. As someone who’s never moved beyond knitting a rectangular scarf, my ears perked up when I heard that Andrea was planning a yarn party, where people could learn how to knit or crochet, or get help with a project. Sensing an opportunity, I picked up some beautiful soft blue and grey wool from my local knitting store, packed up my supplies in a wine bag (a delightful discovery), and during the knitting circle somehow convinced experienced knitter Shawna to help me get started. OK, so it’s still another scarf, but this one is tapered and multicoloured – look how cute!

The Paint Mixer

To counter some of the more adrenaline-heavy GM activities (Paintball! Go-karting! Alpine slides!), I brought in a local company to run a painting activity for anyone wanting to get creative. I was pleased to see everyone from Theme Wranglers and UI Designers to Happiness Engineers and Code Wranglers – many of whom had never painted before – take pride in their finished artwork.

Photos courtesy of The Paint Mixer

Picture Not So Perfect

One evening my colleague Marcus shared his passion for night photography and his handy exposure calculator. While I’d brought a tripod all the way from Montreal, it turned out my mighty little camera was not quite robust enough to capture shots of the stars, and every frame looked pretty much like this:

night photography

Fortunately, all was not lost in the photography department. Later in the week, Happiness Engineer Jen organized a photo tour with local pro David Schultz, who taught me how to use the manual settings on my camera – and happily didn’t make me feel inadequate for not having fancier gear. David guided us through some local nature trails and wildlife preserves and while we didn’t encounter any exotic animals – the most exciting creature I saw was a squirrel – the stunning fall scenery made it worth the huffing and puffing through high altitudes.

♦ ♦ ♦

The week featured many other memorable moments: a fun trip into town with my fellow theme-team members; an incredible closing party with performances by talented musician/singer Automatticians, a relaxing hot-tub hangout at the end of a long day; a workshop on how we can foster a more inclusive and diverse company; a cozy hot chocolate-fuelled knit-fest in my suite; and many good chats with colleagues I’d only previously talked with online.

Until we meet again next year, my dear Automatticians.

Photographing the Moon


I may be cynical about a lot of things, but the spectacular-ness of the natural world is not one of them. So last night, I went down to the corner of our street to stare at the sky for a while with my husband. And we took a camera and tripod with us.

Before the digital-photography era, I was pretty comfortable with a single-lens reflex camera. I knew my way around F-stops and shutter speeds. I even developed my own negatives and prints in the darkroom. When I finally gave in and got a digital camera before a trip to Australia back in 2006, I never learned how to apply the skills I had to the digital world, and sadly lost the ability to manually adjust settings on my camera. I rely on automatic settings and blind luck to get OK-looking photos, which is why I was so pleased to have some of last night’s shots turn out much better than I’d expected. Here’s a few, straight off the camera.

A CSS Adventure


If you have a WordPress site you’d like to tweak the look and feel of — but you aren’t sure how — you might like to check out my CSS Adventure presentation from this year’s WordCamp Montreal. During the 40-minute session, I walk you through the basics of using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to make small changes in the design of a site. Follow along with the accompanying workshop site and demo site.

Very special thanks to my colleague Michelle Langston, who originally co-developed this workshop with me.

Dynamite Girls


In the early 1980s, I was a Dynamite Girl. That is, inspired by my subscription to Dynamite Magazine, I formed an all-girl club with a posse of grade-six friends, appointing myself as its president.

Unlike what you might imagine, the club was serious and secretive. We had detailed typewritten rules and minutes, Liquid Paper-laden formal agendas and questionnaires. We took anonymous polls and collected dues.

Ensconced in my suburban basement, we planned fundraising endeavours like backyard sales, and creative projects like publishing a newspaper. (Whether we actually followed through with these grand plans, I can’t remember.) We tried to solve mysteries, scanning the local newspapers for connections between crimes in the neighbourhood. That undertaking I’m pretty sure never panned out.

Rule #6: No fooling around.

Here’s a typical rundown of a Dynamite Girls club meeting, based on the official typed minutes from March 4, 1981:

  1. All members wrote down on paper what they wanted to talk about but disguised their writing.
  2. We talked about maturing and what we would do if we got our period.
  3. We talked on a loopline and got a french guy after more than 1/2 hour of trying different numbers.

Googling doesn’t turn up much about these mysterious “looplines,” but they vaguely sound like the eighties telephone version of today’s online chat rooms. (Our parents would have been horrified, I’m sure.)

It’s clear that along with the sober fundraising and mystery-solving projects, we also talked about typical girl things like bras and periods. We used a code phrase – “certain matters” – to refer to something I can’t even remember, but was probably boy-related. When we took that secret poll about things we each wanted to do in the club, one piece of paper said “I want to talk about ‘certain matters'”; another said “I want to talk about things of adolescence”; and a third said “Do you guys want to have a social? I do but I don’t know where to have it!!!!!” Only one lonely piece of paper said “I WANT TO PRICE BOOKS!!” Even with the “disguised” handwriting, I can tell that this one was mine – apparently I was mostly keen to get going on the backyard sale.

The club’s collection of paper artifacts gives me a peek into my pre-adolescent world, before heavy angst hit and female friendship became more complicated. I was able to indulge my urge to organize and plan, even as my friends and I entered the turmoil of teenagedom, my gang of dynamite girls.

Lightbulb Moments


When I talk about helping people learn WordPress, I use the phrase “lightbulb moments” a lot. One of my favourite things is watching people have those flashes of clarity as they suddenly understand things that were only fuzzy before.

Which is why, when I get a reply like this in the WordPress support forums, my heart goes a little fluttery.

Wow, you just taught me more in the last 30 seconds than I’ve learned in the last month. It’s like a lightbulb just turned on. Thank you!

You’re very welcome. And here’s to the next lightbulb moment in your WordPress journey.

stuffed creature holding lightbulb

Photo (cc) by Aaronth

Summer Scenes


I’ve spent a bit of time at the end of this summer relaxing and recharging, which for me, doesn’t come naturally – I’m much more comfortable keeping busy and crossing items off my to-do list. While up in the country for a few days without much Internet, I even managed to read an entire book in under 24 hours – and I’m positive these two things are closely related. :D

My People


I walked into the large hotel meeting room in San Diego with some nervousness. 125 people I’d never met before filled the space, with just as many laptops dotting long rows of tables. A mosaic of international WordCamp and WordPress T-shirts adorned the motley crew, who’d assembled from around the world for a week of activities.

I remember having one very strong, distinct thought, as I scanned the room:

These are my people.

I’d been hired full-time by Automattic as a Happiness Engineer only a few weeks earlier – on August 20, in fact – and this was my first company-wide Grand Meetup.

Three years later, I’m still there. Automattic is now 400-strong. My colleagues are special people – funny, smart, considerate, generous – and many are also my friends. I have a wonderful team that supports and appreciates me. I feel completely comfortable to be myself.

I help people understand how to use WordPress – and delightedly watch some develop a passion for it. I teach, guide, mentor, speak. I learn new skills and refine existing ones. I love what I do, maybe even more than I did at the start.

Thank you, everyone, for the last three years. Here’s to all the adventures still to come.