Automattic Engineering Culture on Key Values

Automattic is hiring engineers across mobile and web, frontend and backend. Recently we partnered with Key Values to highlight our top values, from open communication and open source all the way to flexible work location and a focus on teams.

Listing of Automattic engineering values on the Key Values website.

Top values include:

  • Open communication: As a distributed company, communication is our oxygen.
  • Open source contributor: We believe open source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.
  • Committed to personal growth: The first line of our creed: “I’ll never stop learning.”
  • Flexible work arrangements: Set up remotely in a way that works for you — and take the time off you need.
  • High employee retention: Automattic employees tend to stay at Automattic: Our retention rate for Code Wranglers and JS Engineers is 86% over the last 5 years.
  • Heavily team oriented: Teams are how we organize our work, communication, meetups, and impact.
  • Engages with community: We are more motivated by impact than money.
  • Engineering-driven: First and foremost, we are an engineering company. Engineers are the ambassadors of our company and community.
A view of Automattic employees.

Check out the full list of Automattic engineering values here: https://www.keyvalues.com/automattic. And, if anything matches your interests and passion, please apply!

An Advice Process Paves the Way for Clear Decisions

In Brave New Work Aaron Dignan describes a wonderfully clear way to use an “advice process” to make better decisions.

Watch a short video on YouTube where author Aaron Dignan illustrates the advice process (at minute 4:45).

Start with consent by asking for agreement. Get buy-in and move things forward. This not consensus or everyone is 100% happy with it, instead it means it is safe to try.

Use an advice process. Whenever you’re about to make a decision that’s irreversible or could damage things, go seek advice from those who’ve done it before. And, seek advice from those affected by it.

This replaces the waiting and expectation for a leader to do something—top-down decision making—with your own judgement and responsibility.

Distributed.blog: The future of work is here

WordPress was my first introduction to the idea of distributed work — we didn’t need to live in the same place or work in the same office to build something that changes the world. So when I started building Automattic in 2005, we took the exact same approach. All you needed was good WiFi and a dream. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Automattic remains a fully distributed company, with 900 employees working from 68 countries and no central office. Now that we’ve been working this way for over a decade, I wanted to create a podcast to tell the story of distributed work — not just sharing everything we’ve learned at Automattic, but speaking with other companies, executives, and creators who are pioneering the future of work. We’re going to learn about the practical application of distributed work in our daily lives, but also answer the bigger questions about why it’s important.

Matt Mullenweg

Forward-looking new series about distributed work from the founder of WordPress and Automattic (my employer).

Rosabeth Moss Kanter on Confidence

rosabeth moss kanter on confidence

A quick-hit edition of Voices in Management

Confidence isn’t optimism or pessimism, and it’s not a character attribute. It’s the expectation of a positive outcome.

I’m inspired by Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s work and philosophy on change management. The consistent message in her writing—many of her essays are in Harvard Business Review—is that a leader’s job is to “provide the tools and conditions that liberate people to use their brainpower to make a difference in a world of constant challenge and change.”

Computational Kindness

People are almost always confronting what computer science regards as the hard cases. Up against such hard cases, algorithms make assumptions, show bias toward simpler solutions, trade off the costs of error against the costs of delay, and take chances.

These aren’t the concessions we make when we can’t be rational. They’re what being rational means.

Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

The last chapter on computational kindness in Algorithms to Live By is worth the entire book.

Review: Aware, The Science and Practice of Presence

A visual look at the Wheel of Awareness.

This book by Daniel Siegel guided me beyond the popular meditation apps like Calm and Headspace into something different, the “Whole of Awareness.” The idea is to integrate all types of meditation and awareness training practices from focus attention, to open awareness, to connectedness—non-duality.

The core practice involves visualizing a center hub of awareness, a spoke of attention, and a rim which holds all possible focuses. From the 5 senses, body awareness, thoughts/emotions, and feeling connected to other humans, beings, and things.

Dan repeats a phrase over and over to underline why a practice like this leads to improved well-bing: “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.”

Increase neural integration in the brain, enabling more coordination and balance in both the functional and structural connectivity within the nervous system that facilitates optimal functioning, including self-regulation, problem solving, and adaptive behavior that is at the heart of well-being.

For online resources including narrated meditations (short, medium, and long) visit: Dr. Dan Siegel – Resources – Wheel Of Awareness.

Practical and insightful. Hat tip: Akshay Kapur.


📚 View more of my book reviews on Goodreads.

Quick Fix Days and Hack Weeks

At Automattic we’ve redefined our hack weeks to focus on product changes for customer kindness: fixing flows, removing dead ends, and paying down technical debt.

In The big secret of small improvements Tal Bereznitskey explains how to improve “quick fix days,” where software teams take time to make small improvements. Those small changes can together mean a big win for customers and the business.

At Automattic we’ve experimented with both 1-day bug scrubs in one team all the way up to a full “hack week” — so Tal’s principles strike a chord with me.

Framing the problem is halfway to solving it — I love how he suggests rewording the subject line of a software change to fix a bug as something actionable, not just a description of the problem.

6. Well defined. Only work on tasks that are defined properly. Prefer “Make content scrollable” over “Bug: can’t see content when scrolling”.

Create positive feedback loops — I remember during my days answering WordPress.com Themes bug reports and how rewarding it was to hear directly from the people I helped with a bug fix.

7. Thanks you. There’s nothing like hearing a customer say “Thank you!”. When a quick-fix was suggested by a customer, let the developer email him and tell him the good news.

This is the work: customer kindness — Our latest iteration at Automattic speaks to this customer focus as the goal of the maintenance work — it isn’t just polish or cleanup, this is the product work. We even have a fun acronym for it now! H.A.C.K. — Helping Acts of Customer Kindness.

Aaron Douglas: Being Mindful During Video Calls

Tips from my coworker and prodigious mobile app maker Aaron Douglas on being mindful during video calls. Great tips, not just for remote workers, either. “I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.”

The Dangling Pointer

Working remote means I’m on a lot of video calls. I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.

Look at the camera often

When you’re in person you look at people’s eyes to show them you’re listening. Doing that on a video call requires a bit of counter-intuitive body language by looking at the camera. You won’t be looking at the person but they’ll see you looking directly at them. It’s a subtle difference but I’ve found it highly effective.

Also try to place the video call window up the screen towards the camera. Also decrease the size of the window so the person’s eyes are naturally closer to the top of the window (closer to the camera). When you’re not looking at the camera while the person is speaking it’ll still look…

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Kerry Liu on Team Leadership: Three Important Things

Insight on team leadership and management from my colleague and technical team lead extraordinaire Kerry Liu.

Remember these three things: don’t fall into the safety of your old job, listen, and provide useful feedback.

These are the three most important insights I gained from working as an Engineering Team Lead at Automattic. 

Read the full article: Three Important Things.