Women, WordPress, and Working at Automattic

These questions were originally asked to me by Janet @ Women 2.0. You can see an excerpt of them in her excellent article, “How Automattic Empowers Women: A Culture That Neutralizes Gender.” I decided to republish the full set of questions & answers on my site because, hey, that’s why I have a website – to bring you my voice and my content, unfiltered by others. Enjoy, and if you like what you read, think about applying

Automattic logo

1. Why did you want to work at Automattic? From reading your “stop self sabotaging” post, it sounds like you give yourself a push to do this — why was that?

It feels personal to me, but I suspect one can draw a lot of parallels to freelancing, changing careers, and also how one gets started with WordPress in general. Many people like myself get involved in WordPress as passionate users, on their own. You use the software for your site(s), master the interface, and then you start helping friends, doing migrations, retouching themes, and pretty soon, you feel comfortable enough to say “I use and know WordPress” but (and especially several years ago), there weren’t as many opportunities to get paid full-time to work with WordPress.

So taking that leap, saying “I’m good enough and I deserve to be paid full-time to do this” is a leap I think a lot of people take with WordPress and definitely with a passion that goes from a hobby or something you do on the side into a career. How do you know when to make that leap from your current situation to a full-time / freelance / career change? How do you know you’re “good enough” without the traditional “accomplishments” in the form of a degree, certification, or past employer paying you to do that job? You have to decide within yourself that you’re ready & worthy, and that’s what I wanted to convey in that “Stop Sabotaging Your Own Success” article. That most of us, and many women I know, undermine our own experience, confidence, and opportunities all on our own.

So you have to give yourself that push (or remove the blocks from your wheels), and then when you get there you can spend the rest of the time proving it.

2. As a completely distributed company, Automattic has a strong culture of communication & transparency, especially with the reliance on internal blogs and documentation. I feel like that lends itself to addressing, in a really powerful way, many of the barriers/frustrations that women can face in the workplace (e.g., helping them to share accomplishments, connect to mentors/each other). I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts and/or observations about this connection.

I think one of the best things about our communication style and transparency (more than 160 internal blogs by function, team, and project) is it allows a really excellent & transparent window into other parts, functions, and focuses of the company. This means there is always space for someone interested to contribute their opinions and volunteer their time to affect a product or change, either outside their normal team or even just their job function. The wonderful thing about working for a startup which is growing like crazy is that someone’s always asking for people to raise their hands and pitch in on something. It turns the mentality from “who works on that?” to “I could work on that.”

I think getting stuck somewhere is a fear that many women face – more of a glass box rather than a glass ceiling; that you will be stuck doing the same thing you were hired to do or that you have a unidirectional career path, and somehow to change you have to move out of the company instead of inside it. Switching teams at Automattic is something which can happen frequently, for a few months, or even permanently, which means there is often opportunity to learn something new or focus on something new with your skills, and because we’re distributed you don’t have to change location to take advantage of the switch, but just update the internal blogs you’re following & which chats you log into.

3. From the VIP blog, it looks like you’re hiring (or very recently hired) an additional member of the VIP team. What’s interesting about Automattic is that working there requires knowledge about WordPress and because of that, you probably hire from within the WordPress community. Do you think that and being distributed gives Automattic an advantage or is substantively different from how other tech companies hire?

The VIP team is actually constantly hiring and we’ve added several members to the team but we’re still growing and so is Automattic – that’s just the most recent job we posted. :)

One thing I want to comment on – working at Automattic doesn’t require previous knowledge of WordPress, nor even PHP experience, especially with the breadth of opportunities and products we work on. Of course, some knowledge of WordPress is good but we’ve hired people with no WordPress experience but who excelled in their fields, and they were able to apply that knowledge to their jobs and learn what was needed along the way. In fact, our company creed starts with “I will never stop learning.” We need great developers (and support, growth, systems, finance, and designers) no matter what they do or what their experience is. If they’re great, and passionate about what they do, we want to work with them.

The WordPress community is great because there are a lot of opportunities for individuals to shine and get involved in the software’s development without a formal invitation. The reality is a lot of people make their living with WordPress without ever being involved directly in the community, which is a shame because not only is it a great way to give back, but it’s also a great way to get noticed and to find jobs, big and small. So we know there are a lot of people doing cool things with WordPress under the radar – we’re hoping to find them, too.

Automattic is different from how many other tech companies hire because everyone who interviews with us does a (paid) trial project, which gives them a chance to show us how they work, produce, and communicate in a distributed environment, which is exactly what they’d be doing once hired. It’s good for us to get to know them, and for the candidate to test drive us as well and decide if it’s the right environment for them.

4. Is there anything specific within Automattic for the purposes of promoting or building a female-friendly culture?  Or is it more about building a great work environment/company overall?

We’re still a young company (160 185 employees now in 28 countries and 120+ cities in the world, with rapid growth in the past 3 years) and we’re constantly trying to develop ways for employees to get the support and growth they need through mentor programs, training, presenting opportunities, and other benefits. The great part about being small and a startup is we don’t have policies set in stone and we can test experimental benefits and iterate on them. We offer a generous maternity (and paternity!) policy which is similar to our vacation policy (we don’t have an open one, on purpose), as the maternity policy focuses on “taking the time off that you need.”

I think this is also where our culture of transparency helps, as recently there was a very long internal thread about finding great female (job) candidates and what we can do as a company to encourage this, or if it’s even a problem. Ideas were shared on our internal blog/intranet-ish site and comments were made from all over the company (& globe), not just from the HR department. As an Automattician, you can share ideas and thoughts with the entire company without having to formally write a memo or accidentally hit reply-all, and you can also get the same level of recognition or feedback for those thoughts/ideas as any (male/female) coworker would as we’re using the same medium and forum to communicate. I think our communication style in some ways neutralizes gender, and it puts the focus more on things like tone and making sure people participate & speak up (a distributed company problem in general, not gender-specific).

The distributed nature of our work also means that there’s more flexibility to something that I think every woman needs to do and probably doesn’t allocate enough time for: networking. Because our company is focused on what you produce, and not exactly when you’re in a physical office, it allows more flexibility to do a lunch with your mentor (or even co-work with them), attend events during the day or when needed, or even experience a different city / culture / work environment by deciding to work from somewhere else (i.e., I was 155 days away from my “home” city in 2012). Being able to architect your day also means you can be flexible to respect commitments with family, friends, or even just yourself, which is incredibly powerful.

Thanks to Janet for the opportunity to talk more about what I do and Automattic! 

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3 replies »

  1. (I thought I posted this but I don’t see it here… sorry, if it’s repeated, feel free to delete the duplicate!)

    Really enjoyed your post, some really great insight into how Automattic works. The way the company handles its staff, how it has faith & trust in them, and the general way in which it presents itself (as genuine and sincere, without cynicism or flash) to the public are some of my favorite things about being a WordPress user. This authenticity oozes from every part of the company. I would call it great branding, except I know it’s really just the way you guys are. Makes me proud to use your products!

    I worked for a distributed company for awhile and I was hoping to implement P2 as our communication system, but didn’t stay long enough to suggest it. I’m about to start a project with a distributed team and am using something similar to keep track of our progress. What are some tips or things to avoid you could suggest in using this system? Thank you!

  2. @Shirley – Thanks for your comments :)

    Did you check out http://p2theme.com/ ? We have some more info on using P2 there, but I think the biggest suggestion I can give you is to start using the verb “P2 it” in your conversations internally. When you discuss something (in person, on the phone, on Skype), after, someone needs to P2 it. Make a decision? P2 it. Need to share something on progress? P2 it. Reinforcing the use of the tool will be the biggest tip I can give you. If everyone is committed to using it, it will be useful :)

    • Thanks so much for the tips! So true about reinforcing its use; right now about 50% of the team is using our communication system (not P2, but another WP theme), so this is definitely something I should be reminding everyone to do. Great advice!

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