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.
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!
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
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
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?
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
At the 2016 Automattic Grand Meetup (GM) in Whistler, British Columbia, I did a joint flash talk for the first time, with my awesome colleague Laurel Fulford. Since we were hosting 500+ colleagues in our own country, we used the opportunity to share eight minutes of Canadiana with our co-workers. And now we’re sharing it with you!
We’re really excited to be hosting everyone here for the GM this year and we wanted to take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about Canada. I’m Laurel and this is Kathryn, and we’re both members of the Theme Team. [Audience cheers.] Woo! And we’re both Canadians, or Canucks. I’m from just west of here on Vancouver Island, and Kathryn’s from 5000 kilometres east in Montréal, Québec.
To start, there are some stereotypes about Canada that you probably are familiar with – and some of them are even a little bit true. But it’s a big country, and even the ones that are true are not true everywhere. With that in mind, let’s go.
Metric Mixup, or How to measure up to Canadians!
Let’s talk a little bit about the Metric system. In 1970, Prime Minister Trudeau began a process called “Metrication,” which attempted to convert Canada over to the metric system.
But by 1985, we’d only gone about half-way, so the government kind of gave up.
As a result, we use a total mix of metric and imperial measurements, in a very Canadian sort of compromise.
We can tell you the temperature in Celsius – but don’t ask us how tall we are in metres, or how many kilos we weigh, cause we can only tell you that in feet and pounds.
Gas and milk are sold by the litre – but we still talk about mileage.
Canada in Writing, or Use your “U”s, love your “L”s
Similar to the whole metric/imperial thing, we also mix up our spelling. Like the UK, we love our U’s! So we use them as much as humanly possible. We also share some other spellings with the UK. But to make it confusing, we follow the US, as well. And as you can tell, our accents are closer to our American neighbours than not.
Canadian Food, or Friendly refreshments to eat or drink
Looking at food, Canada has some unique food items, with some pretty passionate advocates.
One you might have heard of is poutine – a concoction of fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Delicious or disgusting? You be the judge! [Delicious!]
We’re not the only country with Kraft Dinner (or KD) but the we do tend to use the term interchangeably with any macaroni-and-cheese product.
And what about satisfying our sweet tooth. We’ve got butter tarts, which are little sweet, gooey pies. We also have Nanaimo bars, which are chocolate, custard, and coconut – named after a town on Vancouver Island.
How about some uniquely Canadian booze terminology? Here we have a Caesar, which is kind of like a Bloody Mary… but with clam juice! We also have the term Mickey – which doesn’t refer to this guy – but it’s what we call 375ml of alcohol.
Now let’s say you pick up a case of 24 cans of beer – that’s called a two-four. And let’s say you happen to pick up that beer on the national Victoria Day holiday weekend in May – that makes it a May Two-Four.
Getting away from the booze, in parts of Canada – not here – you can buy your milk in a bag. And if you’re looking for whole milk, we don’t actually call it that. It tends to be called homogenized milk.
Canada is a little bit obsessed with Tim Hortons – you might have stopped off there on the way from the airport. It’s our national doughnut chain named after who else, but a hockey player.
We’ve got Timbits, which are little doughnut holes, similar to munchkins from Dunkin Donuts. A coffee with two creams and two sugars at Tim Hortons is a double-double. And don’t forget to “roll up the rim to win”! Also, this is real, you can get a Tim Horton’s Double Double credit card.
Canadian Money, or Canuck Bucks
Let’s look a little bit at Canadian money. It also has some unique characteristics.
We used to have one-dollar and two-dollar bills, but we got rid of them and replaced them with coins. So now we’ve got loonies – because look at the loon on the front! And then a couple of years later, we came out with the toonie… because it rhymes with loonie. We also got rid of our pennies fairly recently. So don’t be surprised if your change gets rounded up or down if you’re paying for something with cash.
We still haven’t gotten rid of the five-dollar bill, but take a look in your wallet, you might find a “Spocked” five if you’re lucky.
If you happen see one of these things, this is called Canadian Tire Money, which was an early loyalty program from our beloved national hardware, auto parts, and sporting goods chain. You used to get “cash back” in the form of this little funny money, but they got rid of that too, and now they use a refillable card like everyone else.
Canadian Words, or Creative Canadianisms
There are some words Canadians use that tend to make other English-speakers raise an eyebrow.
The first one, we’re kind of infamous for – it’s the toque, instead of a wool hat.
We don’t get into the queue or line, we join a lineup. Look at this long lineup! (Even if we’re not being accused of committing a crime.)
Instead of parking in a parking garage, we use a parkade.
Look at this kid, what a keener! He’s doing his homework during recess. Keener. Not even sure that word even has an equivalent.
I’m not sure you’ve noticed here, instead of restroom or toilet, we tend to label it as a washroom.
And the pièce de résistance. This is not a garbage disposal, at least that’s not what we call it. We call it a garburator. I’m not making this up! This is what we call it, not a joke!
Canadian Music, or Rocking out to “Oh Canada”
Canadian artists have produced a lot of great music over the years, you might be familiar with some of it, from Neil Young to Joni Mitchell to Arcade Fire.
But if you listen to the radio, you may notice a lot of Canadian music. That’s because of a regulation called Cancon, which tries to protect and promote Canadian culture. Commercial radio stations must play at least 35% Canadian content every weekday from 6am to 6pm. Because of this, every Canadian here can probably sing you any top-40 song by a Canadian artist from the past 30 years. [That’s Bryan Adams, by the way.]
Canadian Sports, or Competitive apologizing
Most people associate two sports with Canada: hockey and curling.
But actually, our national sport until quite recently was lacrosse, which is an aboriginal sport that’s been around – at least documented – for almost 1000 years.
In 1994, hockey was added as our national sport of winter, but our national sport of summer is still lacrosse.
Sorry about that, Eh?, or The True North, Strong and Apologetic
Some of the most well known Canadian stereotypes, true or otherwise, can be summed up in three words. The first one…
Canadians apologize a lot. We’re really sorry about that. We can’t help it, it’s compulsive, as soon as we have the opportunity, even if we’re not at fault, we bust out the “S” word.
“Eh” is a handy little multipurpose syllable and we use in many different ways. So let’s look at some of them.
Statement of opinion – La Banquise has the best poutine in Montreal, eh?
Statements of fact – P2 or it didn’t happen, eh?
Questions – Not an awesome idea to deploy on Friday at 5pm, eh?
Exclamation – Best meetup ever, eh!
In fixed expressions – I know, eh?
Telling a story [the narrative eh] – So I deployed this big commit, eh? And it brought down all of WordPress.com, eh? And we had to this really big revert, eh?
So, now we come to about.
No, we don’t really say “a boot”
But there are areas of Canada that pronounce “out” a little differently than your ear might be used to, and it even varies across the country.
So we conducted a highly scientific study, looking at a cross-section of our fellow Canadians to see how they say “About.” Based on the results we are confident in our conclusion that “Peak About” is located in none other than Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the vowel sound is most pronounced.
We hope this gave you a good intro to some of the things that make Canada unique. And if you have any questions, you can ask any of these Canuckamatticians and they’ll be happy to answer for you.
I had the opportunity to visit Barcelona for a team meetup this month. Amazingly, bits of Spanish from my long-ago university days somehow managed to re-emerge in my brain, ocasionally even forming sentence fragments that seemed to be at least partially understood. For various reasons, I didn’t take as many photos throughout the week as I’d planned, but during our last day, we played tourist and the camera came out in force as we explored two of Gaudí’s masterpieces, the Sagrada Família and Parc Güell.
If you’ve ever wanted to know more about what it’s like to work at Automattic or are curious about the role of a Happiness Engineer, check out this short video for a peek at what my workday is like. And if you’re a feline fan, watch for a brief cameo by my most camera-friendly cat, Finnegan.
I was honoured to be part of this Career Spotlights series for YES Montreal, an organization that provides resources and encouragement to English-speaking Montrealers looking to build a career in this city.