When we chose Philadelphia to host the first ever WordCamp US, it was actually for two years, they’ll be hosting again this year December 2-4. We’re going to pick the host city and group for 2017 and 2018 in the next few months, though, and in fact the applications are open and closing in a few weeks. If you think your city and team have what it takes to wow the world with the best WordPress event, please put your hat in the ring!
Today is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, when typically Catholics give something up, or try to form a new habit, for about six weeks. Many of my friends who aren’t Catholic do the same, it’s a good practice to try to go without something in your life you take for granted. It can make you reexamine assumptions, take you out of your comfort zone, or make you appreciate the thing you gave up much more when you return to it. Also it’s just a bit more fun when you do it with friends. 😀
Last few years I’ve given up:
This year I’ve been thinking about what I take for granted, and surveyed friends for what their suggestions would be. One of the things that I’m pretty bad at is buying too many things, especially gadgets. I’m pretty good at clearing out old ones so it doesn’t get too cluttered, but I definitely have a habit of getting the latest USB gadgets on Amazon, shirts from Kit & Ace, workout stuff from Lululemon, shoes I don’t need, etc.
So the thing I’m going to give up this year is shopping or buying any material things. I’m also going to take the opportunity to try and reduce the stuff I do have in my life to things that spark joy.
The Atlantic does an in-depth look on why it’s much less pleasant to have phone calls than it used to be. It’s true, but there are also some great alternatives that I’ve been having luck with recently. Facebook Messenger has a built-in audio (and video!) calling system that is okay. Facetime isn’t just for video, you can also make audio calls with it and they sound amazing (something I learned from Kanye, true story). Many times I’ll try a phone number in Facetime first just in case the person uses an iPhone. And finally Skype still works pretty well even if its clients are a bit heavy. If I’m able to be at a computer (all of these work on computer as well as apps), this Sennheiser USB headset sounds great, blocks background noise, and people say that I sound clear.
I’ve been reading Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues, and it’s an incredible education. The book is helping me appreciate an era of music that inspired the era that inspires me — the music that drove the Roots, J Dilla, Fugees, D’Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, and so many more to create what they have.
Chronologically, I’m in a chapter covering mid-90s hip-hop, which is full of conflict. There’s a tension alluded to in the book of the musicians that made it and those that didn’t: does increased radio play make songs popular? There’s some science that suggests yes. Or is there something intrinsic to the record that puts it in that virtous loop of requests and airplay, the equivalent of usage and virality in a web product?
There’s a great ancedote in the book that I think is useful when thinking about products. All of the links are my addition, not in the original text.
There was one moment during the recording of Voodoo that really brought this home. We were recording DJ Premier’s scratches for “Devil’s Pie,” and Q-Tip had just let the room to go work on something else, so there were four of us left there: Premier, Dilla, D’Angelo, and myself. During the break, Premier asked if anyone had any new shit to play for the group, and D’Angelo went for a cassette and played a bit of a new song, and the whole room just erupted in hooting. Then Dilla put on some new Slum Village shit and it was the same thing: an explosion of excitement. Then Premier, who had started the whole thing, played an M.O.P. song and some new Gang Starr material that he was working on for The Ownerz.
I was last at bat. All I had on me was a work tape for what would eventually become “Double Trouble” on Things Fall Apart. It didn’t have finished vocals yet, didn’t have Mos Def’s verse. It was just a skeleton. I played it, and I will never forget the feeling that came over the room, including me. It wasn’t that they didn’t hoot and holler like they had for the other songs. They did. But they didn’t mean it. I know the move people resort to when they’re not quite into a song: they keep a straight stare on their face and bob their head a bit, not saying anything, not making eye contact. That’s the sign of death. That’s what they all did to me, and I felt humiliated. I was like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction: I will not be ignored! I went back into the studio that same night and gave that song a radical, extended facelift. I refused to sleep until I had that thing up and running.
I love the idea of Questlove realizing the song was missing something, and going back to the booth to keep working on it until it resonated with his target audience. A song that doesn’t stand up on its own wouldn’t be any better when bundled as part of an album. (Or Samsung would have the most popular apps on Android.) Fans hear the care and quality of each track, and they become super-fans. The bands that break out weren’t bludgeoned into fan’s ears by radio play, they were pulled by these passionate few into a wider audience.
I love the mixtape culture that so many of today’s successful artists have come up through, and it is amplified online. Drake had three ever-improving mixtapes before his first album. It harkens to a line from PG’s startup canon (in 2009!): Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.
There’s this tension in everything we produce. Where’s the line to tread between 1.0 is the loneliest and a minimum viable product? Or is it about a minimum lovable product? Are we building a car with no air conditioning or a car with no wheels?
“Pivot” has become passé, but it’s much worse to assume that distribution will solve something core to your product that isn’t working.
Unsplash is a collection of Creative Commons Zero licensed photos that area really amazing, and I curated a collection of ten images for them which you can check out here. The hard part was trying to pick only ten — there were so many beautiful and stunning images.
The past 6-8 months I’ve been seeing a new type of person applying for Automattic’s engineering positions that I hadn’t seen before, and I think it’s very interesting and promising but missing one key component.
These applications usually have great cover letters and well-put-together resumes, which is a good sign that people put some thought into it and had someone spot-check it before sending it in. But where most people list prior jobs, these applications (and LinkedIn profiles) list projects. When you dig into prior jobs listed, if there are any, they’re typically in a completely unrelated field like medicine or finance, and under education they list one of these new bootcamps, like Hack Reactor or App Acedemy.
Here I’m going to offer a key 🔑piece of advice to these folks to help their applications stand out, and can 100% compensate for their lack of professional experience: contribute to open source. “Projects” done in a coding bootcamp, even when they’re spelled out in great bullet-point technical detail, don’t really tell me anything about your engineering ability. Open source contributions show me a passion for a given area, ability to work with others to have a contribution reviewed and accepted, and most importantly show actual code. Even better than one-off contributions, if you can grow into a recognized position in an open source project, that puts you ten steps ahead of applications even from folks with 20 years experience in the field, at least to an Open Source-biased company like Automattic.
Though I don’t know any of these boot camps well enough to suggest them, I love the idea in general. Even before the more formal bootcamps I’ve seen hundreds of examples of people who used free information and technology to rise to a very high level of technical contribution. In fact that’s very much my own story from the early days of WordPress. So in summary: it’s okay to learn to code through class projects, but show your value by getting involved in something bigger.
One of the areas where Automattic and its products like WordPress.com have the most room for growth is in the area of marketing. It’s also an area our competitors are spending heavily in, with Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Web.com, and to a lesser extent EIG and Godaddy, spending over $350M this year in advertising. (Of course marketing is much more than just advertising, but their spend is still significant.) We’re hiring for a number of positions in this area to build up our team, including a CMO, a performance marketing specialist, marketing-oriented designer, and a role focused on events. If you know of anyone who would be ideal for these roles, or if that person is you, please read about Automattic on that page and follow the guidelines for the role to apply.