Five

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Five years ago today, I started working full-time at Automattic. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked for someone besides myself.

Thanks to Automattic, I’ve eaten pastéis de nata in Lisbon, tucked into tapas in Barcelona, devoured croissants in Paris, and savoured street art in London. I’ve travelled all over the US and Canada, developing a burrito fixation that haunts me.

I have colleagues and friends spread out on six continents.

I’ve answered more questions about WordPress than I could have ever imagined – and (amazingly?) I’m still not tired of it.

I have skills I didn’t when I started – responsive design, child theming – and got comfortable enough to teach them to others.

My imposter syndrome is still a part of me, but it doesn’t consume me like it once did, and I share tips with others on how to tame it.

Thank you, Automattic, for giving me opportunities to learn, stretch, and share over the last five years. You’re still my people.

Trapped: A Story

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I find myself trapped a lot. Too often for my liking, really.

And I’m not talking metaphorically.

There was that time I unexpectedly rode an elevator up and down nonstop for 45 minutes at a hotel in San Francisco. (Did I mention I’m very susceptible to motion sickness? You do the math.)

There was the memorable experience of getting locked in a housing project in London, England, after being given the wrong address where I was to meet people. That one was really interesting, since I didn’t have a local SIM card, so no way to reach anyone to let them know I was trapped. How the heck would I get out of the locked gate — who locks an exit gate, anyway? — and how the heck would I find the people I was supposed to meet? (Thankfully, my colleagues sent out a search party to find me, and when I finally escaped the compound, they miraculously ran into me wandering the streets.)

This afternoon I was trying to exit an underground parking lot, but could not get the garage door to open. A note on my receipt said the exit code was 1245, but there was nowhere to enter said code. With my car parked at the exit booth and hazard lights flashing, I meandered (well, lurched, semi panic-stricken, is probably more accurate) around the lot, looking for an attendant, to no avail. I picked up several serious-looking red “emergency” phones and waited for a security guard to answer, but got no response.

The lot was eerily quiet. Not a soul was around. I called the toll-free number near the booth. “You’ve reached ParkSafe. We’re not available, but please call back in 10 minutes.”

When these things happen to me, I sometimes have a brief flash that this will later make for an amusing story.

You’re reading this now, so it means I finally made it out of the garage. While I was having dinner with my friend, I got this brief text from Mark at ParkSafe:

Hi it's Mark from ParkSafe I just missed your call you can reach me on my cell at [redacted] - Ha thanks! I was trapped in a lot but made it out, whew!

It was cool that Mark got back to me. He seemed nice.

Upcoming Theme Workshops

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I realized recently that when I used to run my own web development business, I was always good about letting people know ahead of time about things I’d be doing in the future. Once I started working at Automattic, I stopped doing that as often, and instead mainly write about things I’ve already done. I’m going to break that habit today, and let you know where you can catch me at two upcoming events!

Getting Comfortable With Child Themes

Tuesday August 8, 6:30-9:30pm ET

I’ll be giving a workshop on creating child themes with WordPress at this year’s WordCamp Montréal. The cost is CA$10, and you need to buy a ticket in advance. Not sure what a child theme is or why you’d want to make one? Check out all the details.

We’ll be offering all sorts of other useful WordPress-related workshops that week, culminating in the two-day WordCamp Montréal event over the weekend of August 12-13. Hope to see you there!

The Developer’s Guide to Supporting Your Themes

Wednesday, August 23, 2017, 16:00 UTC (12:00 ET)

Not in Montréal? I’ll be offering a free online workshop on improving your support skills as a theme developer. While geared to theme support specifically, many of the skills will be relevant to other types of support, so if you’re a plugin developer or volunteering in the WordPress.org or .com forums, you’ll likely pick up some tips as well. Learn more and join us!

featured image by Nic Price (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Signs of Summer

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I’ve fallen way behind in posting. Instead of continuing to stare at all the great ideas I have for epic posts and not actually writing any of them, I’ll try to break the bloggers’ block by posting some amusing signs I’ve come across in my last couple of months of travels. They might be amusing only to me, so no guarantees… Photos taken in Montréal, Toronto, and Paris, France.

Défense d'afficher (do not post)

Do not post. File under: “Irony”

Ice Cold Ramen

File under: “Who thought this was a good idea?”

Est-ce que les sacs pour les fruits et légumes vous conviennent?

How are the fruit and vegetable bags? File under: “Low-tech, in situ survey technology”

no stapler here

File under: “If staplers are such a common request, why don’t they just keep one there?”

Petit bar à chiens

Little dog bar. File under: “Just plain cute.”

The CSS Song

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One of my greatest delights as a Happiness Engineer helping users with their WordPress themes is witnessing “lightbulb moments” – seeing people start to understand technical concepts that had been fuzzy before, as their site starts to take shape.

Recently, one of the folks I helped with some custom CSS in the WordPress.org support forums was particularly grateful. I’d lent a hand getting his custom-song business website looking just the way he wanted, and taught him a bit about responsive design in the process – that’s the art of crafting a site that adapts to any device, from desktops and laptops down through tablet and phone sizes.

Once the site was looking close to what he had in mind, James casually offered to write me an original song on any topic, as a thank you for the help he’d gotten. I couldn’t resist taking him up on his kind – but completely unexpected – offer, and asked if he could write a song about CSS, since it seemed apt.

A week or two later, an audio file and lyric sheet arrived in my inbox. And I’ve been enchanted ever since. Thank you, James!

The CSS Song
by Custom Song Workshop

CSS
it’s so mysterious
I wasn’t the best best
in fact, way down on that list
In truth a total novice
hit the forum to enlist
my coding therapist
pray we’ll take care of this

CSS
if I really must confess
my mobile columns were a mess
media queries, I didn’t know yet
Concepts like margin and float
like distant islands, too remote
as I flailed and drowned
until Kathryn calmed me down

‘Cause I spent all my life thinking that I’ll never need it
But with Kathryn’s help even I still clumsily succeeded

CSS
design a site for my business
it simply couldn’t look a mess
the visuals had to impress
on a variety of screens
from big to small and in between
I sat alone, cowed and upset
‘Cause I didn’t know how…yet

See, I lived all my life having never even coded
When forced to web design my declining confidence eroded

‘Cause I wanted a beautiful site
but I didn’t want to pay with two limbs
Well it all turned out alright
and I owe it all to Kathryn

I copied so much code to the CSS additional section
Who would ever think I’d become somewhat independent?

CSS
Should I revisit this mess
won’t feel such pain and distress
for truly Kathryn is the best
Automattic Engineer of Happiness
and to that title I can attest
for I didn’t burst nor implode
send my Mac crashing three floors below

Spring Butterflies

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I took a trip to Montreal’s Botanical Gardens to be surrounded by butterflies. After a long, dreary winter, it was exactly what I needed.

A Thing

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I bought a Lebanese food thing today. I had no idea what it was, really, but it looked golden and tasty, so I pointed to the large platter being kept warm in a heater on the bakery counter and asked for a piece of that, “s’il vous plaît.”

The server didn’t seem entirely convinced I knew what I was ordering (he was right, of course) so he warned me, “It’s sort of like a crème brulée.” Say no more, I thought.

He proceeded to ask me a series of questions, which I didn’t quite comprehend at first. Not because he was speaking in French, but because this was a whole new world of food, and I lacked context. I eventually figured out that he wanted to know if I’d like a small, medium, or large amount of hot syrup on the thing.

Next, did I want the thing in a something-something, or on its own? I really didn’t understand this one, so I just nodded. Let’s go for the whole shebang, I figured.

To go, or to eat here? This one I understood. “To go.”

I paid for my thing – along with the plate of delicate pastries I’d gotten for later; this place has the best Lebanese-style baklava in Montreal, despite its unlikely location in a past-its-prime suburban strip mall – and headed to my car. I lowered the paper wrapper and bit into the soft, gooey thing, encased in a crunchy, sesame seed-studded dough pocket with a tiny built-in handle/finger hole. The verdict? This thing was delicious.