The Great Canadian Flash Talk, Eh?

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, 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.


Community Interview

A friendly fellow named John Parkinson got in touch a few weeks back about doing an interview for his community series on Of course, I said yes! We chatted about everything from how I got hooked on WordPress forum support, to my experiences mentoring with Ladies Learning Code, to how Montreal Girl Geeks ditched the “dinner” part of the “Girl Geek Dinners” equation.

Check out our 13-minute conversation on the blog or watch below. And meet more members of the WordPress community around the world in John’s other interviews.


From Shadows to Limelight: How Women Found Their Voice At WordCamp Montreal

At WordCamp US a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share the story of what the Montreal WordPress community has done to get to more women speaking at our WordCamp. Thanks to some speedy work by the video team, the talk is already online, along with many other talks you might want to check out – and more still to come.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to photographers Elida Arrizza, Jeremy Clarke, Kirk Wight, and Eva Blue, who’ve documented our WordCamps so well over the years. Your images were a treasure trove and helped to bring the talk alive.

The slides for this talk can also be viewed separately.


Welcome! I’m Kathryn Presner, and I’m from Montreal, in the province of Quebec, Canada. That’s about 450 miles directly north of here [Philadelphia].

It begins

The first WordCamp Montreal was held back in 2009. It was a two-day, two-track event – pretty ambitious for a first-time event. Talks were mostly in English, a couple in French.

Two women gave solo talks and two women co-presented with men.

And if you’ll notice here on the schedule, two of the women’s talks were scheduled at the same time.

It was a really good inaugural WordCamp in many ways, but something that bugged a lot of people was the real gender imbalance, and even the fact that you couldn’t even see all four women speak, because of the way things were scheduled.

As a community, we went on a journey to change things.

Our transformation was slow and steady, and happened over the course of years. It wasn’t easy, and it took persistence and hard work by a lot of people. So I want to clarify that when I say “we” and “our,” I’m referring to the whole community in Montreal, both official organizers and supporters. And when I say “women” I’m referring to anyone who identifies as a woman or non-binary.

Earlier this year, Rachel McCollin said:

If a WordCamp has a healthy proportion of women speaking at it, then that will tell the women attending that this is a community they can feel part of, and that they too can aspire to speak at WordCamps and WordPress meetups and pass on their knowledge.

My hope is that you’ll find some things from our journey in Montreal that you can bring back and try in your own WordCamp community.

2010: The Shannon factor

In our second year, Shannon Smith stepped in as the first woman co-organizer, alongside founding organizer Jeremy Clarke and new organizer Brendan Sera-Shreir.

And here they are after a very successful WordCamp weekend. Do you notice anything?

Shannon had two of her four kids during her seven-year tenure as a WordCamp organizer.

That second year we again had just four women speakers — this time, two of them were Shannon and me. We’d attended and met at last year’s WordCamp and decided that WordCamp needed a good overview talk for beginners, so we created one. This time we also didn’t put any of the women speakers up against each other in any of the same time slots.

As a bilingual city, we also wanted to see more talks in French. This year there were a couple more talks in French, and even one in Franglais, a pretty uniquely Montreal combination of English and French.

Looking back, 2010 was also a very blue year, do you notice? I don’t know how that happened…

2011: Where are the women?

2011 was our third year, we’re moving along now, and we had some more solo talks by women and a couple more joint talks as well. Our percentage of women speakers went up to 28%.

That year we tried something different. Shannon had an idea to have an informal discussion to brainstorm why there were so few women making their voice heard in the WordPress world at the time.

We called it: Where are the women? or Où sont les femmes  — we did it bilingual-style.

The room was pretty packed and there were tons of ideas flying. People of all ages shared personal stories. We brainstormed what the problems were and possible solutions. Men asked how they could help. It was pretty inspiring.

I used a wacky mind-mapping tool to try to capture the gist of the discussion, and looking back, it’s kind of hard to look at, I’m not quite sure how well it worked out. But looking back, it did bring back some of the salient points and reminded me what we talked about.

One of the things that really struck me was looking at this little cluster about how to get more women speakers. Things that came up a lot were feeling like an imposter, as being the reason why women didn’t want to present, feeling like a fraud, being worried about expressing strong opinions.

2012: Front and centre

We tried a few new things. We wanted to make a conscious effort to put women’s images right on the website as speakers, to make us like we belong, and that we’re welcome, and have a place there as speakers.

This is Roseanne Harvey in the header of the website itself — she’d given a talk the year before.

We even used the same image on our little badges that we gave to speakers, attendees, and volunteers.

Our proportion of women speakers jumped by 10% that year to 38%.

Here’s something Aaron Jorbin said:

It also is about inspiring. When you look at a career path and see only people that look different than you, it becomes a lot easier to drop out and say it’s not for you. [W]hen you look at the breakdown of speakers and don’t see anyone like yourself, you question if you even want to buy a ticket to attend.

2013: Nudging

In 2013, another woman joined the organizing team – this is Alex.

And something else happened — we went from two tracks to three, so now we had even more speakers to find!

Shannon started doing something. We have a very active Facebook group in our community, and she started putting little reminders, saying how many people had submitted so far, how many women, and do you know anyone who might be able to submit a talk. And this started to show the community that this is something we care about. Maybe it prompted someone to consider submitting, who might not have considered it.

I also made a habit to get up and pitch our local community at other events for women in tech that I would go to. We have a pretty active community for women in tech in Montreal, and I would always get up if there was an opportunity for announcements, and invite people to submit a talk to our local meetup group, or if the time of year was right, to submit a talk to WordCamp itself.

I’d also keep an eye out whenever I went to WordCamps in nearby communities — for example, in Ottawa or Toronto. If I’d see a really great woman speak, I’d invite her to submit a talk to Montreal.

We did something else in 2013 — we ran a troubleshooting workshop for women. And Shannon led another Women and WordPress discussion session.

2014: Flatter-nagging

We have about one community meetup a month, and we started doing some more participatory-style meetups. Things like a plugin slam, where anybody could get up and talk about their favourite plugin. Or we’d share tips on things you wish you’d known when you first started using WordPress. Or we had a panel on the business of WordPress. This would let people get a little taste of what it’s like to get up and share something in front of a group, without having to commit to a whole talk.

Something else really key for me also happened in 2014, and these are some pictures from it. The Vancouver WordPress community was facing a situation where almost no women were submitting talks to their WordCamp. And they decided to so something about it, something extremely concrete. They ran a public-speaking workshop for women. It was a half a day, and they did things like look at how to brainstorm and narrow down talk ideas, how to write pitches, how to structure a talk — things that beginners can find very challenging.

I was extremely inspired reading about this. I thought it was an amazing idea, and I thought it was something I’d like to try. I asked two of my colleagues, Tammie Lister & Cat Rymer at Automattic, if they’d be interested in developing a workshop similar to this for our colleagues within Automattic. And they said yes. And we ran bunch of those within the company through videoconferencing, since we’re distributed. And then Tammie & I took this on the road, and continued to give the workshop in other WordPress communities, local workshops, and AdaCamp, and Montreal Girl Geeks.

Along with the things they’d covered in Vancouver, we looked at things like how to handle stage fright, how to avoid common beginner speaker mistakes, and how to handle post-talk questions and answers, something that beginners can get very nervous about.

We also created a companion site called Get Speaking, full of resources for beginners.

We continued — mostly Shannon continued — tweeting and Facebooking our submission stats, so, how many talks in French, how many in English, how many talks by women. And this started to get the community talking. Here you see in French, Elise Desaulniers, saying that her and Kaylynne were going to help each other with their pitches, and if anyone else needed help, to get in touch. As a side note, Elise is speaking here at WCUS this year.

This started to nurture a really supportive environment in our community, rather than a competitive, individualistic one.

I continued to do something a little bit more strategically that I had started to do, and that was to make a list of all the women I thought would be great speakers for our Montreal WordCamp, and invite them individually to submit, and ask if I could do anything — if I could look over their pitch, or anything at all. And a friend who I’d been doing this with for a couple of years gave it a name. She said, “Kathryn, you’re so great at flatter-nagging!” I said, “Flatter-nagging, that is amazing!” She said, “Yeah, you’re asking me to do something, but you’re also complimenting me at the same time, so I want to do it!” So I wrote up a blog post about this technique to share it with others, because it was very effective.

2015: Turning point

A 2015, a third woman joined the organizing team — this is Veronica.

We also put up a diversity statement on our WordCamp website to show the community that diversity in all forms is very important to us. This is alongside our existing Code of Conduct.

We continued with the Facebook nudges.

We started to get some really good results. Belinda Darcey, who’d done my beginner workshop the previous year, gave her first solo talk and did an amazing job.

We reached a milestone this year, 2015: 51% women speakers.

This is something Shannon said, from the perspective of an organizer:

[T]ransparency helps let people know that you have [diversity] on your own radar. Publishing your participation stats is really useful. We let people know how many women speakers we have, how many apply, how many attend, and we talk about how we want more. It does help. And we talk about wanting to be diverse in other ways too, and that also encourages people to participate.

2016: Passing it on

We lost our organizer Veronica to the charms of Berlin (we miss her!) but invited Andrea Zoellner to replace her on the organizing team.

And if you remember this person from the top left, this is Elida Arrizza. And she had been a photographer at WordCamp, and a speaker. And last year, she ran a great beginner workshop the week before WordCamp, because we do a series of workshops. And we asked her if she’d like to do it again this year. And she declined — but said, “I’m going to get a new speaker to do the workshop. And indeed she did. She got Alice Phieu to do the beginner workshop, who did an amazing job.

And Elida really took this flatter-nagging to the next level. She started really mentoring new speakers. This is Lara Binamé — Elida helped her with her pitch, helped structure the talk, rehearsed with her, and Jes Nudo as well. And they both gave their first solo talks this year.

And if you remember Belinda, who’d given her first talk the previous year? This year she took it to the next level as well, by organizing a panel on the business of WordPress, and invited three other entrepreneurs to be with her. So you could say went from being flatter-nagged herself to flatter-nagging her own panel.

I continued my flatter-nagging — even people who’d turned me down before, I would come back and ask them if maybe the schedule would work out this year. And we got Linn Øyen Farley and Dara Skolnick from Toronto. And Michal Bluma in our local Montreal community got Shelly Peacock, who is here in the audience, and Jamie Schmid to come up from the US.

And remember those speaker workshops? Speaker training is now part of the official training materals, so it’s available to anyone. Some of our workshop material is incorporated in there, along with material developed by the team in Vancouver. So anyone can now give a beginner public-speaking workshop in your own community.

Where are we now?

This is a pretty cool graph showing how we got from 20% women speakers in 2009 to 50%. And it also correlates it with the percentage of women organizers, and the number of women’s T-shirts ordered.

This was Shannon’s last year as organizer, she retired after serving the community for so many years.

We realize we still have more work to do. We need to develop diversity in other areas besides gender. We need to keep working on this.

I hope you’ve gotten some ideas of things you might try in your communities, and also maybe you’ve thought of things you have been doing in your communities that have been successful, that you’d like to pass on. I’d love to hear about them.


Spotlight on Happiness Engineering

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.

Automattic Personal

Hairstory: a father-daughter tale

Every year at the Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, we each have to give a short presentation in front of our colleagues. This “flash talk” can be about anything at all – and it can be in any format we like, whether a more traditional talk with slides, a song, video, or interpretive dance: pretty much anything goes.

This year was my fourth Grand Meetup flash talk, and I decided I was finally ready to do something more personal. My past flash talks had been about growing garlic, the peculiarities of Quebec English, and foods from Quebec that everyone should try at least once… but this time would be different — it would be a story about me, my dad, and our hair.

I hope you like it.


Last year, my flash talk was on growing garlic. This year, I’m going to talk about growing hair.

Even before my birth, the subject of hair in my family was fraught with anxiety. You see, my dad Bob had an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. By age six he’d already lost much of his hair.

He wore a hat constantly from 6 to 13 so the other kids wouldn’t bully him. They bullied him anyway; they knew what the hat must be hiding.

By 14 he began wearing a wig.

A pretty bad wig.

What had started out as alopecia areata was becoming alopecia universalis – as in hair loss everywhere. Eyebrows, eyelashes, leg hair, my dad was losing it all.

By his early twenties when he married my mom Ellie, he’d ditched the wig, and was attempting to pencil in the missing patches on his head instead.

Doctors didn’t know very much about alopecia back then – they don’t know much more today – but they thought there MIGHT be a genetic component, so my parents were understandably concerned this condition might be passed on to their kids.

So when their firstborn – me – came out with a small little head of dark hair, my folks were pretty relieved that I appeared to take after my mother in the hair department.

Still, my parents held their breath a bit as I grew older. Watching. Waiting.

The hair grew. And grew.

My dad stopped penciling in his head every day and eventually shaved off the last stubborn locks. They never grew back.

By the time I got to elementary school, it was clear that my thick, curly, unruly, hair was here to stay. My parents were very happy.

Ironically, I decided around that point I hated my frizz and wished I could just have straight hair, like the rest of my friends. My mom would blow-dry it for me in a vain attempt to turn tight curls into the straight hair I’d never have.

After certain really terrible haircuts – by hairdressers who hadn’t the faintest idea how to cut curly hair – I would go home feeling like I looked like Little Orphan Annie – but with MUCH less optimism.

After one particularly horrific haircut I professed to my mother quite earnestly that I needed to become a nun so I could hide my hair every day. Never mind that we were Jewish, that was just a detail. The Catholics needed nuns, surely something could be worked out.

When I got into acting, my hair took on a leading role.

Hair got big.

Hair got short.

I went through my own hat phase.

My yearbook photo was a big disappointment. I detested it so much I covered it up with a retake. This time, with a hat.

I went prematurely grey the summer I was 17. But it was just for a play.

As I got older, I gradually began to hate my hair less and less. Adolescent angst turned to adult apathy. It just didn’t matter so much anymore.

After meeting a cartoonist named Shane, he took a stab at drawing me. My hair had made an impact. You can see how he was trying to get it just right.

Five years later when we got married… he made this for our wedding cake

These days, my dad & I are both pretty accepting of our heads and our hair.

As I get older, grey hairs have come along. Real ones this time. I used to pull them out as they appeared, but in the wise words of a former hairdresser, “That’s probably not a good coping strategy.”

Will I dye my hair? Time will tell.

A few years back, a relative shared this picture of my great-grandmother Rose. I wouldn’t mind rocking the grey frizzy look as well as her someday.