This past week, I received an email from someone that was interested in working at Automattic. This person had found me on LinkedIn and asked if he could ask me a few questions.
After taking a look at the questions, I thought it’d be nice to go ahead and publish the questions and answers on my site in case others were interested as well.
Note: What follows are my personal thoughts and opinions. So, take them with a grain of salt.
1. What would an engineer’s work week/day look like? Meetings, new development, refactoring legacy code, planning for future architecture, customer support, etc.
I can gladly give you an idea of what my work day typically looks like. But, keep in mind that there are developers across the company that have different focuses, different teams, etc.
On a typical workday, I wake up as early as 7:15 am and as late as 8:30am. I usually start my day by immediately looking at any pings on my phone from Slack or the WordPress.com app. This gives me an idea for how quickly I need to start work. There are usually no disasters, which means that I take my time getting breakfast, catching up on company news, and finally I go “online” between 9am and 10am.
In regards to meetings, I average ~3 hours a week doing video meetings.
On Mondays, we have a weekly team video meeting. This is the only required video meeting. Besides that, there are usually a few video meetings that are optional. Each week there is usually a WordPress.com Calypso framework hangout. And some weeks there are learnups that are led by outside people or Automatticians.
Outside of those meetings, most of my days are spent on new features. For the past year, these new features have focused on porting functionality from legacy WordPress.com to the new Calypso codebase. If important issues come up, I will fix them before moving on. Otherwise, I try to focus on bugs in a sprint.
2. There’s a very negative Glassdoor review that heavily criticizes Automattic (though I always take reviews with a grain of salt). The reviewer claims that the company is very disorganized, the employees are apathetic about WordPress and other Automattic products, and that no one communicates with each other. Do you find any of this to be true in your experience?
I can understand how someone might view Automattic as disorganized. Automattic is now comprised of 400+ people that are spread across the globe. We work on A LOT of stuff. And to be completely honest, the first phrase on the Field Guide (internal documentation site) is “Welcome to the chaos.”
That being said, there are systems in place to minimize the disorganization and chaos.
Shortly after starting as a full-time hire, a new employee will be assigned a mentor. This mentor’s job is to help the new employee adjust to their new role and generally feel as comfortable as possible.
We use Slack, which makes it easy for real-time communication around a project or team.
We have internal P2s, which is where more important information is shared. P2s are especially important, because ideas can get lost in the black hole of chat. To read more about P2s and how we use them at Automattic, check out this Fast Company article.
I could come up with a few other tools/systems that help minimize the chaos that is remote work at Automattic, but let’s move on to the other part of the question.
Moving on to the statement of Automatticians being apathetic about our products – I certainly don’t agree with that.
3. Assuming that workers manage their time well, what kind of work hours should be expected (consistent overtime, 35-40 hours or less, not clocked, etc)? How flexible are the work hours (is it entirely up to the employee, as long as they get their work done)? Are engineers expected to be on-call?
I don’t keep track of my hours. I feel that a 40 hour work week is probably close to the norm. But, it’s hard to give you an answer, because, as far as I know, there are no systems in place to keep track of hours. We certainly do not encourage consistent overtime.
For the most part, Automatticians are free to set their own schedule. The only exception I can think of is that Happiness Engineers sign up for live chat shifts. But, even then, I don’t believe these “shifts” are full work days.
Are engineers expected to be on-call? I’ve personally never had to be on-call. I imagine that we may have some sort of on-call system for the systems team in case things get wonky in the middle of the night, but I’m not sure.
4. Do you feel there are good learning opportunities to become a better developer (or other non-programming skills)? Does the work get repetitive and stale, or is it new and challenging?
I have learned a ton while working at Automattic. As a developer, there is so much here that you can work on.
Do you have an itch for testing? We’re working on end-to-end browser testing and visual diffing.
We have our own internal analytics system that is run by a pretty amazing data team.
I could go on and on. But, suffice it to say that there is plenty of interesting work to be done.
If you ever get to a point where you’re bored with your current work… do a rotation on another team for a few months, or just switch teams completely. Both are very common practices.
5. I know some open vacation policies end up with employees taking very little vacation time out of peer pressure. Do you feel that employees are actively encouraged to take vacation? How much vacation did most employees actually take this past year (if you had to guesstimate)?
I’m not sure that I could guesstimate that for you. But, I will say that we have a very healthy view on vacation.
We even have a widget on team P2s that says, “Whoops! You have no time off scheduled”, if an Automattician doesn’t have any time off scheduled in the near-ish future.
My first year at Automattic, I believe I took just over 25 days of vacation. I took two weeks for Christmas holiday, 1 week to study for finals, and 2 weeks for summer vacation.
6. Why did you want to work for Automattic (work remote, didn’t like last job, etc.)? What are the main things you like and dislike about the company after working there for over a year?
The benefits were a big push as well as it being remote work. But, the biggest push was that I would be working on WordPress, which honestly changed my life. Automattic was, and still is, a dream job for me.
I really have a hard time coming up with something that I don’t like about the company.
After 19 months, I think the thing I like most about the company is the people. I believe in Matt’s vision for WordPress and Automattic, I have a great team lead who I feel believes in me and pushes me to get better, and I have a great group of team mates who have become friends.
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