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How (Not) To Start a Job at Automattic

1. Celebrate!

Congratulations, you’ve been hired at Automattic! 

It’s surreal to think you’ll be joining this globally distributed team that you’ve long admired from afar. You’ll soon get to design a well-known, well-loved product and impact thousands of people out there. Feel all the feels!

The interview process was intense. The entire thing was text-based — you’ve been typing, reading, and writing and haven’t talked to anyone out loud or seen anyone’s face. (Your family thinks you’re chatting with bots on the Internet. Pshh! You’re 99% sure these are real people.)

2. Aim to be the world’s best employee.

It’s your first day! Steel your nerves and jump in. 

All new hires, regardless of role, begin with a stint in customer service. There’s nothing like a frustrated customer talking IN CAPS LOCK to get you to learn everything you can about your new product. Be prepared to answer every single question accurately and in full from day one.

Get your test accounts set up, and start activating all one million WordPress and WooCommerce plugins out there. You will learn it all, you can, you must!

3. Figure it out all by yourself.

Automattic has a blog-based communication system called P2. Sometimes, a P2 post is like an email. Other times, it’s like an academic thesis. And sometimes, it’s like you’re sitting in a meeting room watching four people talk over each other. Everything lives in the public P2 ecosystem. There are hundreds of P2s.

Aim to read every. Single. P2. Out. There. 

Sit at your desk and read for 8 hours. Only reward yourself with a break when you’ve reached the end of a particular P2 rabbit hole. They do all reach an end. Eventually. Probably. 

Your well-meaning colleagues will tell you not to do this. They’ll warn you that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, and that, as a team, you help each other see everything you need to see. But since none of them are physically around you, no one can stop you!

They’ll tell you, “Be kind to yourself.” Multiple people will repeat this, and remind you that we’re all going through a growing, global pandemic at the same time. 

Nod, smile, and keep reading.

4. Spiral into despair.

Start to feel like you’re drowning in words. Lay in bed at night and think about all the internal terms and projects you still don’t understand. Sweat. Let that gnawing feeling at the pit of your stomach grow and listen to the terrified voice of your insecure ego. 

Get hit by a crippling bout of imposter syndrome. 

Tell yourself someone else would’ve been able to learn faster, contribute faster. Convince yourself that they’ve made a mistake, and now everyone finally knows you are just a huge fraud. 

5. Try again.

Talk to your teammates about the deluge of information. This time, actually listen when they tell you to be kind to yourself

Ask for more individual meetings to talk things through, even if it might be at odd hours in the day for your colleagues. They will reassure you that they’ve all been in your shoes, and even though (or especially because) you’re apart, you’ll navigate the noise together.

Get out of your own head. Talk to other people about your fears, failures, and victories. Learn from others and share what you’ve learnt.

Take a minute. Quiet the little monsters in your mind. Keep going. 


I joined Automattic’s WooCommerce design team in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’ll be honest — the uncertainty of a global crisis coupled with the anticipation of a new job made my head spin! 

I had worked remotely in the past, but never in a team like this, with a culture and a unique system entirely optimized for distributed work. The rest of my direct team were scattered across Europe and America, while I chimed in from the little red dot in Asia. 

To top it off, it became more and more difficult to gauge what was “normal” working at Automattic, as infection numbers surged and plans unraveled. Things like spending time with colleagues at a physical meetup or working from a co-working space quickly became unlikely, and then impossible. 

Through the turbulence, one key thing came into focus:

People need people.

It sounds kind of obvious, but the hermit in me often disagrees. 

Making genuine connections virtually, with strangers, isn’t the simplest thing. Casual interactions look different when people aren’t in the same room (or continent) as you, and Slack conversations can have a 10-hour answer delay. 

I was lucky to have a team who welcomed me with enthusiasm, grace and generosity. They encouraged open conversations, celebrated each win, trusted my opinions and trusted me with theirs. They shared with me their own stories of when they first joined the chaos, and how they came to embrace it. They sent a lot of emojis. 

One morning, I saw my manager had tagged me in a link. 

It was a company-wide thread where everyone (including our CEO) shared openly about all the things they didn’t know before they joined Automattic, and how, after months, or years, they still feel like Jon Snow (as in, they know nothing). I read it with a grin.

As the first line of the Automattic Creed goes: I will never stop learning. I hope I never do. 


Words and pictures by Jill Quek. Product designer at WooCommerce, previously at Zendesk, striving to create experiences that feel easy, intuitive, and delightful. Design mentor and co-founder of Design Sprint Singapore.

Comments

“Some P2 are like and email, and some are like an academic thesis.” Very true LOL!!

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