It Was Grand

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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.

My People

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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.

Press Publish Portland

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If you’re into WordPress, you’ve likely heard of WordCamps – grassroots events held around the world, with sessions aimed at developers, designers, and users of the WordPress open-source software. You may also have heard about tech-heavy WordPress conferences like LoopConf or business-focused ones like PressNomics.

Last week, a brand new WordPress event called Press Publish made its debut in Portland, Oregon, and I was lucky to be a part of it. An initiative of Automattic, the conference mixed advice and inspiration for bloggers with tips on making the most of WordPress. It was jam-packed with motivating talks, from speakers like Erick Prince-Heaggans, a travel blogger and photojournalist, and Ananda Leeke, a “yoga, creativity, and Internet geek,” both of whom I had the pleasure to chat with during the course of the event.

I loved being involved in Press Publish – from meeting WordPress users of all levels and helping them at the Happiness Bar, to bonding with my fellow Automatticians. Oh yeah, I also gave some talks and workshops! My short presentation Wild About Widgets was recorded, and the video should be out in a few weeks. I gave a workshop on using the WordPress Customizer with Sheri Bigelow and another on mastering menus and widgets. My colleague Michelle Langston and I ran an intro workshop on CSS, putting together a reference site and demo where we showed examples of how you can tweak your site with CSS to get it looking exactly how you want.

The next Press Publish is on April 18 in Phoenix. If you’re anywhere in the area I hope you’ll consider attending. I’d love to meet you!

I had a comment after my Hawaii post that there were no photos of me. I hope this one makes up for that. 🙂 Thanks to Josh Root and Anne McCarthy for some of the pics.

Hawaii in February

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Earlier this month I took an extraordinary trip to Hawaii. The entire Automattic theme division met for its annual gathering on the island of Kauai – a meetup locale rather different from last year’s Charleston ice storm. I stayed on in Hawaii a bit longer, getting a few more days to enjoy this beautiful place.

As cliché as it may sound, Hawaii was simply magical. Sea turtles silently crawling up the shoreline on Poipu Beach, scenery as stunning as it gets, and an unforgettable helicopter ride around Kauai – including the waterfalls where the famous arrival scene from Jurassic Park was filmed. It rejuvenated my soul and provided sustenance to carry me through the rest of this vicious winter.

I can’t wait to go back some day.

Growing Garlic Redux

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While we’re contending with frigid temperatures here in Montreal (“feels like” -27C / -17F tonight!), next year’s crop of 101 garlic bulbs happily hibernates beneath the ground in my backyard.

Some of you may remember that my flash talk at last fall’s Automattic all-company Grand Meetup revolved around garlic gardening, and back in September I posted a garlic-growing guide based on the talk. The video of my talk is now available – if you’re intrigued about growing garlic and have four minutes to spare, check it out:

The original slides are here in case you’d like to watch them alongside the video:

Hasta la próxima, Miami

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I had the opportunity to spend time in Miami last week after a long time away. A lot has changed but in some ways the city seems stuck in the past. I put together a few observations.

Things I will miss about Miami

  • Hearing Spanish all around me
  • Fresh tropical fruit juices
  • Cafe con leche
  • Sun and blue skies
  • Palm trees
  • The turquoise ocean
  • Mojitos everywhere
  • Cuban rice and beans (congri)
  • Fresh fish
  • Plantain chips
  • Cheap parking

Things I will not miss about Miami

  • Styrofoam everything
  • Lack of public recycling bins
  • Pedestrian traffic lights that take forever to turn green
  • Needing a car to go any distance
  • Taxis that may or may not come
  • Taxis that take forever to arrive
  • Taxis that don’t take credit cards
  • Basically, taxis in general

Until next time, Miami – thanks for your hospitality.

So You Want to Engineer Happiness

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One of the best things about being a Happiness Engineer is telling people I’m a Happiness Engineer. Inevitably, their eyes light up and a smile inches across their face. Sometimes they let out a “For real?”

At a company where we’re allowed to make up our own job titles I’d have a pretty hard time giving up mine.

People often ask what it takes to engineer happiness all day, so I’ve compiled some thoughts on being a Happiness Engineer – or HE, as we affectionately call it. (Nearly everything at Automattic has either an acronym or a numeronym.)

What does a Happiness Engineer do?

Happiness Engineers at Automattic help users understand and enjoy the software we provide, from WordPress.com itself, to themes, to plugins like Jetpack, Akismet, and VaultPress.

What qualities make a good Happiness Engineer?

Happiness Engineers innately love to help folks solve problems and thrive on troubleshooting issues large and small. HEs think of clear and helpful communication as an art form and we are always working on perfecting it.

Here are some other qualities I think make a great HE:

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If you get impatient quickly when teaching your in-laws how to use email or have trouble explaining technical things without using jargon, this job is probably not for you.

Working remotely

Automattic is a distributed company, and nearly everyone works remotely – in 27 countries at last count. Most of us work from home, while cafés and libraries also witness their fair share of Automatticians pounding away at keyboards. Some folks craving a more office-like environment co-work from shared spaces – sometimes with their colleagues, like a group of Automatticians who co-work together in Boston.

Forums are fun

If you think you might make a good Happiness Engineer but have never helped people with WordPress-specific things before, a great place to test the waters before applying is in the support forums, whether for WordPress.com or WordPress.org. If you get sucked in quickly and find yourself spending hours answering questions just because you enjoy it, that’s probably a good sign.

Extended happiness

A few of my colleagues have written insightful posts that really encapsulate the experience of being a Happiness Engineer or working at Automattic. Check out the words and experiences of Andrew (who leads the Core Happiness team), Zandy, Steve, and Aaron.

Credo

The Happiness Engineer job page puts it well:

As a Happiness Engineer, helping people is your passion. Our goal is to build relationships based on trust which result in happy, passionate, loyal customers and colleagues through listening to their needs and guiding them to the fullest use of the products we offer.

If that description calls out to you, why not do something about it? 🙂