I was fortunate enough to be featured in the July issue of Inc. magazine’s “The Way I Work” column. (Page 114, the one with Paul Graham on the cover.) The article is great and the photography very flattering, but it’s a little misleading. All TWIW articles are written in the first person, but not directly authored by the subjects, and we’re not allowed to see them before they’re published. These bizarre rules have some unexpected outcomes, and I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting the article in my own words and with lots of extra links. (You can read the original here.)
On a good morning there’s no alarm clock. I wake up with the sun and do my best to resist the instinctive urge to look at the computer or check email for at least an hour.
My vice of choice isn’t coffee, but the Kindle. Its electronic shelves are filled mostly with the business books I read in order to grow up to be a real businessman (before someone figures out I’m not). At any point in time I have about 120 books downloaded. Interspersed between Drucker, Godin, and Buffett are classics like Seneca, which I wish I could read more often but only get to a few times a year.
Automattic, the holding company behind WordPress.com, finally got an office late last year at Pier 38, a beautiful open-floorplan space right on the Embarcadero. It’s about a five-minute walk from my apartment, but my preference is to work from home. We’re very much a virtual company where everyone primarily works from home (or their coffee shop of choice). The half dozen of us in the Bay Area will go in on Thursdays to have a little company, but six days out of the week the space is usually empty. But we throw some great parties there.
The team communicates mostly via P2, something a little like Twitter but password-protected, with real-time updates and threaded inline conversations. P2 is almost like a chat channel, but structured like a blog, and we’ve evolved to have almost a dozen across the 40 people at Automattic – serving a variety of purposes. We fill any gaps in communication by IRC, Skype, and, in a pinch, email.
In my home office there are two 30-inch monitors — a Mac and a PC. They share the same mouse and keyboard using Synergy so I can copy and paste between them. The Mac is mostly used for email and chat, while web stuff and coding happen on the PC. The keyboard is, of course, Dvorak, a more efficient keyboard layout that I switched to 10 years ago. I also have a Sony Z90 laptop with me all the time, whether I’m going overseas or just to the doctor’s office. I’m pretty rough on laptops, sometimes going through two a year. At home I like to geek out with home servers and networking, and sometimes find myself doing IT support for family, friends, and colleagues.
One of my favorite programs that we didn’t make is RescueTime, so much so I invested in the company. Hackers all know that you have to profile before you can optimize, and RescueTime runs in the trap of my computers and tracks how much time I spend on different things, sometimes with surprising results. My biggest time-suck is email, and to help out I wrote a WordPress plugin that filters people into folders based on their email address and priority settings which helps keep my inbox relatively clean. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, advocates checking email only twice a week but that’s too severe for me. I’m currently trying Leo Babauta’s approach from The Power of Less, which suggests small steps like checking email five set times a day instead of constantly. It’s like dieting: People who binge diet gain it all back. That happens to me with email.
Music is my muse and I listen to it all day. There’s a lot of jazz — Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins — but I’m also a big fan of Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Method Man. I have an analog Shindo stereo that was hand built in Japan and the aural experience is mind-blowing. When you’re coding you really have to be in the zone so I’ll listen to a single song over and over on repeat, hundreds of times. It helps me focus. The other best way to focus is to turn off email and instant messenger. The moment that little toaster pops up and says “you’ve got mail” you’re taken out of the flow. You’re juggling variables and functions and layouts and the moment you look away it all falls to the ground — it takes you 10 minutes getting it back in the air again.
A big part of my job is to manage the support, usability, and product development people who are scattered all over the globe, from Alabama to Ireland to Bulgaria. My management strategy is centered on hiring: find extremely self-motivated and curious people and then give them the autonomy to succeed. There’s no manager looking over anybody’s shoulder, so everyone needs to be self-directed. For every person we hire there are hundreds of applications. We always start people on a contract basis first; that way we mutually understand what it’s like to work with each other. One of the most important things I look for in résumés is a history of contributing to Open Source projects, because I know these people will understand our ethos.
For four years I was the only developer on Akismet, our anti-spam service. It started because my mom had wanted to start a blog but I was scared she’d be bombarded by spam for Viagra and worse, think that’s what I looked at all day. We finally added a second engineer to the project at the end of 2008, which was weird for me but was necessary for growth, especially as I’m pulled in more and more directions.
I go out for lunch whenever I can, which fits well with my preference for no meetings before 11 AM. There’s something very personal about sharing food with someone; it’s a deeper connection than shaking hands in a boardroom. Often when I’m in town I’ll have lunch with Toni Schneider, my CEO. He and I get along super well which is one of the reasons I think the business has worked. He brings gravitas because he’s a digital native but also has great startup experience including being the CEO of Oddpost, a webmail company Yahoo acquired in 2004. Sometimes we’ll go to lunch at 12:30 and stay until 5.
In general, I’m pretty darn disorganized, late as often as not, and really bad at keeping a schedule. My PA is now focusing on office and event tasks so I’m in the market for someone new. Last year I was on the road 212 days and clocked 175,000 miles, which is seven times around the globe (according to Dopplr, a great travel journal I use). The bulk of my travel is to WordCamps, which are educational and networking events that celebrate blogging. Automattic held our first annual WordCamp in San Francisco in 2006, thrown together just a few weeks before the event happened. Now they’ve exploded all over the world and I’ve been to over 30 community-organized events from South Africa to the Philippines. I say they’re a great bargain: a full day of quality speakers, BBQ lunch, a cool t-shirt, and a party for $25. We just wrapped the largest WordCamp ever here in San Francisco with over 700 people. Though I’d love to, if I went to every WordCamp I wouldn’t have any time to actually build WordPress, so I’m cutting back and trying to go to every other one. They are great fun, though; it’s a chance to be a rockstar for a day. In the Philippines after the conference was done I stayed almost two hours afterward taking pictures and autographing badges and laptops. I’ve even been asked to sign body parts. Really.
To document my experiences when I travel I use my Nikon D3 camera. My photos are autobiographical — my memory is so bad (and the travel pretty grueling) that I’ll forget everything about a trip, and the photos help trigger my memories. On the plane ride home I’ll process and edit the photos as a narrative of each day, a visual diary. On my trip to Vietnam last February I took 2-3 thousand photos. I’ve heard that the difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the amateur shows you everything they shoot. I’m somewhere in between — I’ll post maybe a quarter of what I take.
I used to think constantly about building an audience for my blog but now my attitude is that if I’m not blogging for myself it’s not worth it. I don’t force myself to post once a day, I just do it when it feels natural. Sometimes people complain — “Write more about WordPress; we don’t want to see photos of kids in Vietnam” — but I don’t really care. For my 25th birthday in January I published a list of 2009 goals on my blog. It included learning Spanish, learning how to cook, and posting 10,000 photos. Cooking has been a total fail so far; I go out for every meal. If you open my refrigerator you’ll find Girl Scout cookies and barbecue sauce. Photos are blazing along, half-way through the year and I’ve taken 20,000 photos and posted about 4,000 of them.
My blog is fortunate enough to get lot of comments and I read and manually approve each one. I think the broken windows theory — a broken window or graffiti in a neighborhood begets more of the same — applies online. I’ll happily approve a comment from someone who completely disagrees with everything I believe in, but if I get a positive comment with a curse word in it I’ll edit it out. My blog is like my living room: If someone was acting out in my house, I’d ask that person to leave.
I look at our numbers every day, usually after 5 PM PST when GMT goes into a new day. We have an internal dashboard where we track 500 to 600 statistics about everything from how often people are logging in to WordPress.com to how many words they’re pressing per day. Almost all of the numbers are real-time.
I do my best work mid-morning and super late at night, from one to five in the morning. Some people don’t need sleep, but I actually need a ton. I just sleep all the time, catching naps in the afternoon or a 20-minute snooze in the office. Our business is 24 hours — folks in Australia start their day around 4 PM my time and our guys and girls in Europe get going around midnight. Sometimes I’ll go out at night, come home from the bar at 2 or 3 AM, and then go back to work.
For WordPress we’re trying to set up a community that will be around 10 to 30 years from now, one that’s independent from the whims of the market. My role is somewhat like Linus for Linux or Shuttleworth for Ubuntu, affectionately referred to as BDFL, and it’s my responsibility to meet as many users as possible and direct the software in a way that reflects their interest. Last year I probably met 5,000 or 6,000 WordPress users, about half of them who make their living from it. We want to be like Google, eBay, Amazon — they all enable other people to make far more money than the company captures. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to create a movement.
My Mom started a blog a couple of months ago. Six years into this, and we finally made it easy enough for my Mom to use. (She hates it when I say that.)
If you ask questions in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them.
225 thoughts on “The Way I Work, annotated”
I do the same, when I hear the right song, the headphones (with silk lining) go on and a few songs, a really good album or one particular song get’s repeated.
Very good read.
very inspiring, Matt!
thanks for sharing
Strange rules that Inc. has. I enjoyed the flow of this much more.
Suggestion on the cooking — take a couple classes. Usually you can do one-off classes in an evening (and you’ve gotta eat anyway).
Thanks for the peek into your day!
Is your mom’s blog public? Share the link? What does she blog about?
Nope, it’s not public.
Brilliant write up Matt. Love the little details. When you do these 5 hour lunches do you make real business decisions or just talk concept/goals?
Much better than the original Inc piece btw. Glad you took the time.
It’s often both, and probably sometimes neither. I always try to have my notebook with me (a little Moleskine I got from CNET many years ago) to take notes and todos.
longest article ever!
but *really* well-written.
thanks for sharing 🙂
A few of your links are missing a scheme and therefore interpreted as relative.
buffett, synergy, Leo Babauta, shindo.
Should be all fixed up, sorry for the typos.
Synergy is still relative.
Absolutely great article BTW.
Congrats on the write-up.
Interesting that Inc. writes the article in first person & won’t let you (the subject) see the article…very misleading to readers who feel like they are getting an insider’s view.
Just wanna be a cheerleader and say keep driving that open source spirit. Really admire your efforts thus far. Personally, really excited about leveraging WPMU.
Working solo most of the time can be mentally isolating (speaking from exp.) Do you ever wish you could have more in-person comradery within Automattic?
All the best
It’s not that bad — they fact check pretty extensively and the journalist who spent time with me (Liz Welch) was amazing. It’s just not my words, which are very personal, it’d be more comfortable if it was third person.
I really like everyone I work with at Automattic (I should, I hired them!) and wish we could spend more time together. It’s easy to work together virtually, but harder to get to know someone — their humor, history, and habits.
I can relate to the comment about it being difficult to get to know people in a virtual work environment. I write for a tech blog which writers stretch across the country and the world and, as you said, working together isn’t that difficult, but developing personal relationships is a bit harder.
I’ve actually considered taking a trip and actually meeting some people I know virtually, but alas, time and nerve holds me back!
Congrats on the Inc article.
That’s the second time I can remember you mentioning the email-centric WordPress plug-in you use. It sounds rather dreamy, is it any closer to being released to the swooning masses…?
Am glad you took the time to set-up the links in your down to earth version, an online article with out links is like a solar powered torch…
I especially like the one about the WordCamps, no more Mr Lazy for me, I’ll be on that for the rest of the day now as we’ve been looking at putting one together for Malaysia (KL) in 2010…
Nope RoutePress is still no closer to release, it’s one of those things that feels a little hacky so not sure if I’d feel comfortable sharing it without some serious clean-up.
Imagine if you felt that way about WP 0.1 :p
Glad to see you share same opinion on comments and I quote:
“I’ll happily approve a comment from someone who completely disagrees with everything I believe in, but if I get a positive comment with a curse word in it I’ll edit it out. My blog is like my living room: If someone was acting out in my house, I’d ask that person to leave.”
I feel exactly same way and I always consider my blog and conversation on it is like a conversation in real life and don’t appreciate stupid rudeness, especially from stranger.
Thanks for chiming in on it!
Great post. I really enjoy reading your post and looking at your photos. And to see how young you are and doing so well makes me want to do better for myself. Keep up the good work. And keep posting the photos. I really liked to analogy of this being your living room.
Fascinating. Having read this once before, I feel the contextual links throughout are amazingly helpful in understanding the big picture.
And then I realize I just read an article about Matt’s life for the second time.
How do you store and backup all your photos?
What photo management software do you use iPhoto Picasa?
I have a QNAP TS-629 with 1TB WD Greenpower drives in RAID 6 configuration for local storage. I commit from the QNAP to a subversion repository of all my RAW files (about half a terabyte) to a hefty storage server in LA from Serverbeach. (Thanks guys!)
Sorry forgot one thing. Thanks for WordPress and all the hard work.
So awesome! I like the little title! …haha Coding in the “Zone” nice. Can’t wait till that theme is released like you promised!
Great article, Matt. I think these are the kind of things people wonder about a lot. Seems mundane at first glance, but it’s actually very helpful. Thanks.
Great article Matt – It’s always nice to see how other successful people plan out their days and work. Thanks for sharing!
Link to “Using Synergy” is broken.. Kindly fix it.Till then let me finish the post..
All of the links should be fixed now, and I’m adding a few new ones.
Thanks for sharing a sneak peek into your daily life. How much of your day is split between, cutting code, managing people and projects, and networking with others outside of Automattic?
By the way, we’d love to see you pop into the BuddyPress forums once in awhile–just to say hi!
I usually don’t mix in a single day too much, I try to batch all my meetings into one day, or all my errands, or all my coding todos. I find I’m not as good at context switching, and my most productive coding days are when I switch everything else off, including email. (Or when I’m procrastinating from doing something bigger.)
very big and informative post matt,
you are always my inspiration but now a day iam started think i may not reach your position,
but being an entrepreneur, i don’t give up easily.
when you are in India, i definitely meet you matt
I try to enjoy the journey as much as the goal, that way if whatever the goal is doesn’t happen for whatever reason you at least had fun along the way.
If you want to be motivated to learn how to cook, find someone to cook for. Cooking is about doing something for someone else and sharing an experience.
If you’re only ever cooking for yourself, there’s always someone out there who’s better at it than you are and very little incentive to keep at it if you can afford to eat out all the time.
I’m a bit confused about this, how does this work exactly? (I have the feeling that you might mean Thunderbird plugin???)
I have a WordPress plugin that I pipe my email to, it basically just looks the sender up in a database and then adds a priority header to the email. When the email is passed back to procmail it sorts it into different IMAP folders based on that header, in addition to a bunch of other rules I’ve set up. I switch computers a lot and access my email in many different ways, so I try to do all my filtering server-side, almost none is done in the client.
Do you use a desktop email client then? Never tried gmail? If not, I certainly recommend it…. I can’t really use clients anymore after switching to that.
I have a Gmail account, but I just use it for archiving things. I don’t log into Gmail on a day-to-day basis, but I do think it is a pretty interesting experience. I do all of my email through Thunderbird, which is an open source client from Mozilla, the same folks who make Firefox. It’s not very polished, but extremely functional and I don’t have any huge complaints about it for day-to-day use.
OK, I won’t try to convert you then 🙂 I tried thunderbird a year ago and although it was the one of the better desktop clients I’ve seen, it wasn’t a perfect fit for me personally…
Very interesting to have your own version. Having been a journalist myself, I know how most people feel when their words are moved around, and how grateful (and sometimes even surprised!) they are when they see you’ve made a point respecting their answers.
Also, it’s very nice to have the needed links – I particularly like the Automattic GMaps link, quite informative 🙂
Note : a good chunk of the links are missing the http:// protocol, which breaks them. I’m confident you’ll get this fixed very soon 🙂
Great to hear about the music repeating all day… my wife gets annoyed when she’s around and I do that, but after a few repeats i’m not even paying attention … I thought I was the only one! 🙂
Yeah if anyone else is around I’ll break out the headphones!
I can relate… anyone else but her and the dog and it’s the headphones too 🙂
Hi Matt, Nice article! I’ve been curious about how great IT people work.
Anyway, I have a bit out-of-context question about WordPress. I’m wondering if WordPress will allow it’s user to upload more file types someday. I have a few other-than-allowed-file-types (such as *.mm/FreeMInd) that I need to upload on my WordPress blog. These files are less than 500 kilobytes. So, in my opinion, isn’t it better if the only attachment restriction is size?
We restrict file types for security reasons, and business reasons. With a space upgrade you can upgrade a much wider variety of files. I don’t know if FreeMind is on that list but after you upgrade drop a note to support and they might be able to add it.
Is that your laptop in the picture? – What model/specs is it?
It’s a Sony Vaio Z90, with some sort of paisley pattern etched into the cover, which I’m partial to. I ordered it from Japan via one of the importers, I think these guys because they had a better price than Dynamism and used WordPress on their blog. It’s got two 64GB SSD in RAID 0, 4GB of memory, and an Intel Core2 Duo T9600 @ 2.80ghz. It came with Vista but I recently switched it to a pre-release of Windows 7, which I like.
I regret ordering the laptop before it came to the US because I would have preferred having built-in EVDO rather than having to use a card. Just like my previous Vaio the keyboard grinds into the screen somehow and screws it up in a line about 2/3rds up the screen, which drives me nuts.
Only other laptop I’ve bought in the past year was the Voodoo Envy 133 which is cool and innovative but has a craptastic trackbpad and battery life, and recently bricked on me in an endless blue screen loop that I haven’t had time to debug yet.
I wonder why you don’t use mac like others?
I have a few Mac Minis at home, I like them a lot!
Do you regularly experience peer pressure to switch over to Mac for all of your machines? I imagine within Automattic and the WordPress community the majority of people use (or would at least prefer to use) OS X. Don’t worry, I’m on your side, having actually switched back to Windows, I’m just curious about why you’ve chosen to stick with a PC.
I have Macs at home, so most folks don’t give me too hard a time.
A very insightful blog post, this is what blogging is all about. This post had so much feeling to it, great job Matt 🙂
Certainly nice to see the a more personal side of you Matt. Very inspiring, very relatable.
Thanks Matt for sharing this with us, it’s very interesting to see how you organize your work day!
One way you impress me is that you are deep into tech stuff and you can write.
Nice read, Matt 🙂
Btw, the link to Synergy is b0rked 😉
wow. i do EXACTLY the same thing when I code… music on loop.
Thanks for everything you’ve done Matt. You’ve helped enable me to follow a dream of mine.
Keep up the great work man!
Fascinating reading, confirmation that WordPress is being driven by a truely interesting person with whom I personnally have discovered many affinities: rigour, poetry, photography, jazz, and most of all true encounters in our increasingly impersonal world. Thanks.
“The Mac is mostly used for email and chat, while web stuff and coding happen on the PC.”
This sounds interesting. What causes the separation (i.e. why not do everything on the Mac)?
I’ve never found a developer groove on the Mac, probably because when I’m on there I usually just use command-line tools and never wrapped my head totally around Textmate or Coda. But mostly I separate things between computers just to balance the load a little bit, especially with things like Firefox which can be a memory hog.
Having read both pieces, I think your version is a much fairer, less extreme version of the article. As you noted, these are “bizarre” rules and I’m surprised people agree to them…although, it wouldn’t be too bad to be profiled in Inc. 🙂
Related to your going out to lunch, I’ll be passing through SF in early July. If you are around and interested, I’d love to talk through some ideas with you. You have my email address.
p.s. – Somewhat jealous that you were brave enough to switch to Dvorak…but wondering how you survive in a QWERTY world (yes, I’ve read your related blog post).
I can still type QWERTY with a slightly-below-average proficiency, it’s just not my first choice and if I was going to be using a computer for more than 5 minutes I’d install Dvorak on it. It’s built into every OS now and switching is super easy with hot keys. The only downside is if the person’s computer switches accidentally, in which case I usually get a frantic tech support call.
I tried Dvorak for a bit, but couldn’t get around the fact that some of the most used keys in PHP and HTML are not very reachable anymore. How did that affect you? If at all?
Nah you get pretty used to it. It’s also annoying with some command-line stuff like
lswhich is two pinky keys. I have all my terminals set up to alias
ls -lah, problem solved!
I read an interview with one of those guys years ago (Thompson, Ritchie, or Kernighan) that said that he chose “ls” not because it meant anything, but because those two keys were underneath those two fingers. I assume that it would never have been called “on” though!
That was a great read. You’re life seems really interesting.
By the way, as one of the WordPress users who makes their living off WordPress, I appreciate your effort to keep the company moving in the right direction.
I filled in the blank about Synergy myself. I knew you had to be using it with your setup.
Great article Matt.
I found it interesting about having the office and yet everyone still mostly works from home 🙂
Anyway I did have a quick question…
You mentioned that roughly half of the people you met using WordPress are making their living from it. What would you say are the top 5 ways they are doing this?
The vast majority are using it as a tool when creating websites for folks, some make money from blogging itself, and a small percentage have WordPress products or services they sell.
Nice article. I’m going to try the repeating song idea. Now I have 18 additional tabs open that I need to check out after reading this!
You’re life is very interesting.
Looks like Jason Mraz lyrics in Wordplay,
maybe u should put it as official songs for WordPress 🙂
There is one more thing you’re catching up this year and that is learning more about Matt, the person, the character.
Not to pry but I see a lot of people in your position traveling around. Be honest is it more for fun or does the business actually require it?
Last month I guess I saw executives from a bunch of social networks go to Iraq and they met with dignitaries who probably have no concept about the business and a handful of kids at a school…
It just seemed so useless to me… maybe you can explain.. THANKS and MOO
Raanan at Automattic was actually on that trip, he has some good thoughts about it here.
For me the bulk of the travel is for WordCamps. For business I think 99% can and should happen over email, but WordCamps are more about me meeting the community — the bloggers, developers, customers, designers, everyone who makes WordPress run. I value these in-person meetings a lot because it’s a much closer connection, and often after I meet folks they become more closely involved with the WordPress community, chipping in their time.
Great Post Matt. Great seeing you in Vietnam and @ Word Camp. I liked the camp so much I am going to the Dallas one.
Wishing you the Best,
Again another genius/inspiring post
thanks Matt. Hope the rest of 2009 goes awesome!
I feel your pain on the email issue – it’s something I (and many others!) struggle with all the time. There are weeks that I’m suffocating because of it…I can’t even imagine what your email box must be like.
Really fascinating article, Matt – thanks for sharing a peek into your work flow. All of the included links added real a great second layer of insight.
(PS – your version was much better than the original – but like the photo from the article)
(PPS – you mention, in one of your comments, the journalist who worked with you on the article and name her as ‘Liz Strauss’ – but the article says ‘Liz Welch’ – – although, Liz Strauss would probably have done a bang up job 😉
Whoops I fixed that up, thanks for spotting the typo.
I like the diversity in your computers. I do wonder what is the significance of the Mac and PC if there arent any major graphics applications being worked on with the Mac? Email and chat seems hardly worth it for the Mac. I am very biased when it comes to laptops. I have had Dell, Gateway and Compaq laptops in my lifetime. The Dell actually melted in my computer bag when I packed it away in hibernate mode. The Sony Vaio is a cool running laptop. It is NEVER hot.
One of my complaints about the Sony (and PCs in general) is that they never get the sleep/wake-up experience as good as Mac laptops, which you open the screen and they’re just THERE, boom. No screen flickering, no whoops it really hibernated but can’t restore, no anything. It’s just instant-on. My other Sony complaints are that since updating to Windows 7 the screen brightness control only works in “stamina” mode (which I think switches the graphics card), even though I have 4GB of RAM in the box only 2.98GB shows up as usable, and the fan is fairly loud and seems to go non-stop.
Did you install the 64 or 32 bit version of Windows 7?
I’m not sure, probably 32-bit. I tried 64-bit something way back in the day and it wasn’t worth it.
I recently proofed a criminology essay for a relative that was about the broken windows theory, and I totally agree with that as well. Keep the clutter to a minimum…while still allowing free speech…applies to so many things!
Although I prefer your version of the article, “I’ve got enough stimulating things in my life already” was a GREAT line from the Inc. article. As a non-coffee-drinker, I totally plan to borrow it. 🙂 Who gets the credit — you or Liz?
All bon mots should be credited to Liz. 🙂
Fascinating, really interesting to know how you work and how WordPress has grown into the dominant blogging platform through your dedication and vision.
And working from home!
Quick question for ya Matt, how do you decide which books you are going to read and how many do you read at One given time?
I usually read one or two at a time, usually something a little fun like a biography and something a little more business. I usually pick new things based on suggestions from people or recommendations from Amazon. More and more, I’ve only been reading things available on the Kindle. There are a few books I really want to read but they sit in dead-tree form at my home and aren’t available on the Kindle yet.
I grabbed a BizTechDay pamphlet at WordCamp, read your interview and noticed that Michael Gerber will be a speaker, too. At first blush, you and Michael seem to have opposing stances on hiring. In E-Myth, he writes about having a system so dialed in that ordinary people can be transformed into extra-ordinary achievers – presumably requiring smaller salaries than rock star employees might.
As my business grows, I’m finding it easier to follow suit with your methods of hiring the most impressive candidate. Right now it only makes sense for me to have one designer, and he/she needs to be great. I’m wondering just how scalable this will be, however.
Do you have any thoughts to share on how well your approach is scaling now? Do you anticipate altering your approach in the future? And how much of a system do your provide your people? (I know you’ve already mentioned the communication channels you use, the contractor first period, and the 2-week support training your people go through).
And finally, of the 100+ applicants for each position filled – how do you go about sorting/processing these? And if number 3 knocks your socks off, do you force yourself to go through the rest before making a decision?
Thanks! And nice to meet you at WordCamp! 🙂
I would say our process of hiring could stand for a lot of improvement — far more great people slip through the cracks than get contacted, often I lose track of applications and forget to contact people, the hiring process is slowed by my other responsibilities, and we don’t have a terribly good system of bringing people up to speed on internal tools when they first join. These are all things I’m hoping to improve this year. As for a general approach though, I wouldn’t say we look for “brand name” people who are well known in web circles or anything like that, I just look for the smartest, most curious, and most passionate folks regardless of their background, and generally they gain prominence through their work at Automattic.
Thanks, Matt! I’m torn between applying your advice to my own efforts and sending Automattic a resume! Haha. 🙂
Lovely article. I like that you re-wrote it for us. Tells me a lot more about what you do all the time!
It’s funny, I’ve only heard of the broken windows theory because I had to teach a unit in one of my English classes that was all about the tipping point, which is the same idea. It’s an interesting concept.
I feel the same way about my photos. I don’t keep a journal or anything so the photos are how I remember. And when I post them on Facebook, I only put up about 20 or so that best tell the story.
Nice write up. Thanks for the the “real” 1st person recap as well. I’ve never understood why they don’t let the subject take a look and give their input. Would seem like it would improve the article and make the reporter look better in front of their editor.
You’re on point with not quitting emails or matter fact anything else cold turkey. You only get short term results that don’t last.
Besides Word Camp events, do you attend/speak at any other conferences?
The majority of my speaking time is now given to WordCamps, I do about a dozen other events throughout the year besides WordCamps but I don’t really keep an upcoming list of them.
Thank you matt for sharing it ;S
I write on my mini webbook – light enough to be carried wherever I go. Music is also my muse, played on loop.
The image ya found on the guinea pig is cute. Reading the lengthy version on inc.com now.
Oh and glad that you shared the way you work. Good read.
Yeah, I liked the original article, but your re-write, or corrected, version was better.
And, yeah, screw those people who want to tell you what to put on your blog. It’s *your* blog, man. Also, since I suggested the “take more pictures and share them” thing for your resolution post, I really dig that you’re doing it! 😉
(I’m sorry that this is personal)
You’ve mentioned about your mom in the post (about twice), what about you dad. Does/Did he inspire you in someway?
P/s: Thanks for the great post! Wishing you success ahead.
Absolutely, I talked about my Dad to the reporter but none of it made it into the article. My Dad is the reason I was into computers, played the saxophone, gave me a ton of guidance around technology including listening to my crazy ideas, and his work ethic has always been a huge inspiration to me.
That was a fascinating read. Your lifestyle sounds very hectic though. Working through the night and catching naps here and there.
I wonder do you find this stressful and rootless?
Stressful? Definitely sometimes! Rootless? Nah, I’m happy wherever there are good friends, good food, and good internet. 🙂
I’m a bit freaked out because this is almost exactly like how I spend my day as well. Especially about the song on repeat and no meetings before 11am. Awesome read.
So, I’m kinda curious to your habits outside work. Exercise, going out with friends, other hobbies like music? Not to be a stalker here but I’m trying to increasingly fit those in into my own workflow 🙂
Exercise, not so much. Plenty of friends and music though.
Hi Matt, this article is a great work and inspiration.
A question: Since you use Windows 7 (which is also my choice), that development tools you use?
Jazz a lot! (Well, Hip Hop and Bossa Nova too!)
Hmmm: the web, Firebug, SFTP drive, Dreamweaver 8 (newer versions are terrible), TortoiseSVN.
Interesting and Inspiring life but a life that is focused around a niche career that I pessimistically presume is not easily achievable… What University did you attend, longhorns?
When did you start to program and become interested in computers?
I went to University of Houston. (Cougars.)
I became interested in computers at a young age, but didn’t program anything significant until I started playing around with b2 around 18, and arguably not until WordPress started.
I heard your synopsis of WordPress’ history at WordCamp, but that wasn’t really the time or place to speak about how Automattic as a business evolved. Have you spoken or written about this elsewhere? I.e., how/when you decided to bring on outside investors, a CEO, etc.? I imagine it was a big transition going from bootstrapping a personal development effort to a multi-national business, and I’d like to hear more about that.
A bit in interviews and such, you should also check out the Automattic category on this blog.
I would love to see what your desk looks like.
I really enjoyed this post. I first heard about what you were doing when you were a guest on WLTV.
Are there really that many people making a living from blogging?
I just started a blog this year for music but didn’t know I could get paid to do it.
There’s probably way more people making money because of their blogs rather than from their blogs. Think of GaryVee on WLTV, you’re not paying to watch that show and I haven’t noticed any big advertisements on it, but because you a fan of what he does (I’m assuming, because I am) you’re more likely to buy his book, see him speak, get something he promotes, and maybe even if you’re lucky and in the area visit his store.
It’s nice to see that your days aren’t filled with panic and piles of people pushing down on you to get things done.
It’s a great aspiration of mine to have days similar to what you’ve described.
Thanks for sharing this.
Well not every day is just like this one, but the good ones are. 🙂
(Writing this sitting on the floor of an airport in Sao Paulo about to take a red-eye back to San Francisco with a layover in Dallas and listening to music on cheap iPhone headphones barely, so hungry I’m actually looking forward to the airplane food.)
Dude, you need to look into PowerBars and other long-term storable foods like that. When I was on a plane every week, I always had at least two energy bars like that in my bag, just in case. I also used to keep those little, sealed bags of vitamin packs, but that might be an issue with the TSA these days.
I love inc, but that is interesting. Either way very fascinating read. Just started my wordpress blog and LOVE it. You have inspired me!
whoah! not sure how i got on here since i’m usually clueless/never read about IT people, but heyyyyyyy. i love my wordpress blog so thanks! my css is all messed up and i have no idea what’s going on, but i love it anyway. so thanks. i think it’s pretty cool that you’re all relaxed about your business and open about it. good for you!
Thanks for the insight. That’s an awesome attitude and outlook! …that’s what they say ‘it’s everything’. I also share your sentiment about avoiding distractions and finding yourself doing IT for acquaintances and relatives, I don’t think any of us (who ‘do’ computers) can escape either of those.
what’s your way to manage your personal feelings? (example: when i’m in love i’m often dragged out of my “Zone”.)
I do have a question, actually. How do you manage jet lag when you fly so often and so far? Or do you just stay up at all hours anyway? I was thinking about you when I went to London because long-haul flights and time changes sort of mess up your schedue for a couple of days afterwards.
If I’m planning ahead I’ll adjust my sleep schedule a little to match a day or two before so I get halfway there, but more often than not I end up just staying up through the night, because it’s easier to force yourself to stay up than it is to force yourself to sleep. (Which I’ve never been able to do.)
I used to never cook…then I had kids. After a while, it’s so much work to go out every night. Now I cook like no one’s business.
Maybe you should try that route.
As someone who also works from home, I definitely concur on the napping. Liked your post a lot!
Thank you for writing this 🙂 ! Didn’t know about RescueTime, got to check that out. Cheers!
Cool site. How did you register the domain suffix .tt (Trinidad & Tobago)?
I just went to their registrar site and went through the process — ma.tt was unregistered. The main pain was you have to wire money to their bank.
Interesting to read this again. Wish I could see the original article with your tracked changes. It’s really great to get such an intimate glimpse of your life like this, since you’re usually so modest and private. 🙂
Also, this isn’t relevant to the article per se, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from you over the years, indirectly, about how to lead.
p.s. I took down my blog until I’m ready to really be consistent. Any suggestions for a title? “Becoming a Byuralistke” no longer applies.
I think you should do a pun of your last names. I know it’s old… but not that old!
That would make sense, especially since I’m trying to create “sugarblum” as a sort of online handle. (I didn’t do my due diligence though–check it out on Urban Dictionary!)
What do you think of “a blum by many other names”? Not obvious enough? (From “A rose by another other name would still smell as sweet”)
I like it.
I noticed you linked to linked to “The Snowball” for your Buffett reference. In my opinion, Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein is a much better read.
Also, if you haven’t checked them out yet, all of Buffett’s shareholder letters are available on the Berkshire Hathaway website and are an excellent resource.
Cool, I’ll check that one out next.
Automattic, the holding company behind WordPress.com, finally got an office late last year at Pier 38, a beautiful open-floorplan space right on the Embarcadero. It’s about a five-minute walk from my apartment, but my preference is to work from home. We’re very much a virtual company where everyone primarily works from home (or their coffee shop of choice). The half dozen of us in the Bay Area will go in on Thursdays to have a little company, but six days out of the week the space is usually empty. But we throw some great parties there.
This is my favorite part. I kept re-reading it like so many times over!
And, the funniest bit was, “I’ve heard that the difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the amateur shows you everything they shoot.”
Matt, you’re an Inspiration, my Superman!
I have no idea who you are, just that you must have something to do with wordpress. I followed twitter link here. About desire to learn to cook, my thoughts: One reason I cook is because I enjoy eating things I can’t find when eating out. If I had the money and there were enough good places to eat out nearby I might do that.
Hi Matt, amazing story and quite inspirational. I do have one question… will you be able to make i t to WordCamp LA? I’d like to see you again soon. Take care and never stop dreaming and reaching for your goals.
Not sure about WordCamp LA yet, I think I have a conflict on my schedule so I might have to sit this one out.
Great article, Matt, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t realize you had a poor memory like I do — sucks, doesn’t it? Oh well, we have to deal with the cards we’re dealt!
Thanks for taking the time to share with us how you work.
Matt, what’s your average efficiency score in rescuetime?? 😉
It’s a state secret. 🙂
Very good chronic Matt, no journalist could do it so well. Your way to work is very interesting and inspiring. See you on your next trip to Argentina. Kisses!!
Matt, great presentation at WordCamp — I’m glad you could join us!
And your hint today: is it JS?
I don’t know!
Love the writeup Matt, great work on it. I was wondering if you could share lessons on what you have learnt in business so far. And maybe a sneak peek at your notes that you manually take and learnings.
Have you ever been in a relationship? Has that affected your lifestyle in anyway? Do you ever think that “man this is so tough to do” and quit? What inspires you to keep at it? Love the work you do, I have a wordpress blog and have never switched back. Thank you for the great product and once again, for the excellent writeup.
Lots of questions there — yes to the first three. As to keeping at it, I think it’s just a function of enjoying the journey as well as the goal.
Okay, I’m leaving this comment, because I just REALLY like your design on here. It totally rocks my socks. I would come back just to hover the mouse over the navbar at the top!!!
I walked into work today and a coworker showed me this article, mainly the caption about playing one song over and over again, because I do the same thing when I need to concentrate.
Your work environment is amazing! That’s exactly what I am striving towards! I love finding fellow 1337 coders.
Thanks for being an inspiration! =)
Fantastic post, thank you! In the time since I have begun using WordPress (seriously, at least), I have been able to exponentially increase my efficiency at doing what I do, which is internet marketing. Without WordPress, I would still be stumbling through Joomla, and manually submitting my posts to the search engines. I believe WordPress is a revolution not only in publishing, but also in making more of the world’s knowledge available to more people. The impact of WordPress is silent, yet vast. Congrats on all your success, you deserve it!
I just read your article in Inc. Thank you for not only creating the vision of WP, but for continuing to hold it for all of us.
I’m not making money yet from my blogs, but I am adding my voice to the discussion. I am making a difference thanks to you and WP. I can’t pay you a higher compliment than say what you do is allowing us to change the world. You are created a non-violent battlefield for this new revolution.
Thanks for sharing, it was really interesting!
You should get rid of the diagonal stripes on the background, or add a solid background color to your posts like the comments have. The lines make your posts really hard to read!
I appreciate the insight into how you help make all this goodness happen.
Your comment re: becoming a real business before anyone discovers you’re not reminded me of a power piece of fiction by Joseph Conrad. The Secret Sharer. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/220
If you have time for fiction, I think you’ll find the ending powerful.
Best to you and your crew.
That was a nice read
It is nice to see that people are trying to build communities rather than companies. WordPress might not be as big as Google right now but it is definitely in the right direction…
Love the article and am a huge fan of WordPress. I fall under the category of making money from helping people use it and building sites with it.
I am really curious about the types of programs you use and specifically how your Firefox is tricked out. It would be killer if you did a post on your pc environment.
very inspiring Matt. You got yourself a follower for life 🙂
It’s very inspiring and thanks for sharing.
I heard that you are coming to Johannesburg, if you can have some time we as the group of Students for humanity we would you like you to visit us in Cape Town and take a look on what we are doing.
Sorry my trip this time will be very short, so I won’t have an opportunity to make it to Cape Town. I do plan to return at some point though, it’s one of the prettiest places I’ve been.
Woaw Cool Matt
I only recently setup a website and launched WordPress – so even though I’m a 25 year IT geek – it took me that long to get around to doing something I’ve wanted to for a long time – share travel photos and experiences with friends and family.
Love the comments about your mom finally getting up and blogging – as well as the thoughts on opinions (negative) vs. comments (that turn out to be rude). Completely agree.
P.S. How does a true-blooded Canadian like me get on that band-wagon called Automattic – I want to be a part of that team moving forward !!!!
We have a number of positions available, you can see them on our website:
Great post, very inspiring 🙂
After reading you say “single song over and over on repeat”, I almost fell off my chair, you’re the only other person who does this, it’s so great to know that I’m not alone! I’ve been listening to Jay Z’s Blueprint 3, one track per day, all day 🙂
Thanks for sharing your work strategy. I’ve been thinking about how manage my time better and a biggie for me is the emails. With all the efficiencies technology offers, the additional information available online is a “trap” for me. I frequently have to reign myself in and stay focused.
Very interesting self-presentation Matt !
I enjoyed reading your life-style !
Thanks for driving WordPress community.
I’ll try to engage more in the community when developping plugins and dealing with WP issues in order to contribute to its growing.
I hope to meet you one day.
PS : love WordPress Mu !
Very inspiring piece of post, Matt. I too want to work from home, learn new technologies, but has always been distracted by uneccesary web browsing 🙁
I have downloaded rescue time to track what I exactly do, hope it helps me to get better 🙂
Thanks for sharing your way of work with us. Would love a post on ‘how to develop yourself, be more productive’, you are sure an ideal person to follow!!
Yeah, I suffer from a similar case of “browsing distraction”! I am working on growing on such areas as being easily distracted and other workflow issues.
I’m curious how “rescue Time” works for you!
Brilliant article, I love your writing style! I am a newly converted WordPress follower, and it’s great! Thanks for everything 🙂
You’re an awesome guy, Matt. thanks for sharing this…lot’s of good stuff to emulate here.
Blessings for you, your work, and all whom you love.
Your workday looks a lot like that of Jason Fried, He’s from 37signals. Another successful company. They play a big part in the Ruby on Rails community. Do you know them?
Of course, I admire those guys a lot.
Great insight into your day to day, and work-flow. I’m just getting started in WordPress theme design on a freelance basis, so I guess I’m one of those people you mention when you say your helping people to provide their own income streams. I guess that feels pretty good?
Great article. Knowing some of the insights of life of the pros is always inspiring.
I will do ask you a question here. Have you ever felt being unsocial when you remain busy with coding or with computers while your friends out there are enjoying in some parties or trips?
Well, I have to say I enjoyed the article immensely, though I was a bit shocked at the lifestyle data. You may want to read about circadian rhythms and the functioning of peripheral organs, such as the heart http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythm. Traditional Chinese Medicine also has a lot to say about the functioning of certain organs at certain times of day. For instance, the liver and gall bladder detoxify the body from 11 pm to 3 am. If you are not asleep at these times, then you may be unable to benefit from the body’s trash removal system, or you may be taking out only two-thirds of the trash every day. 🙂 I have suggestions for your cooking too. Put it into your calendar as if it were an important seminar and do it with others. Fun and food seems to be an infallible motivator. Here’s a link to my friend James Stolich’s cooking classes. He’s really fun. His kitchen is cosy and the classes are very informal. We can go together if you like. http://www.cookwithjames.com/
Happy travels in Calgary!
Thanks for sharing; great tools. And WordPress 2.9.2 is the first time my parents felt blogging was doable.
Thanks for your work, Matt.
I always had this vision that you would be coding all day in between taking photos and hiring people. What I’m really pleased to see about your post is that for someone that has achieved so much that you have a pretty balanced life of fun and work.
That was a great article. I learned a lot about you and the way you work. I appreciate that your Mom is now blogging and that you were the developer of Akismet to keep your Mom safe. I have said out loud more than once that I loved Akismet. I also liked how you talked about being in the zone while doing your work it reminded me about how I feel painting or writing. Being in the zone is a beautiful thing. I use to write for a newspaper briefly when I did an interview it seemed only natural for me to give them a chance to read it before it went to print. I’m glad you do your own thing with your blog. To thine own self be true. To me thats one of the great things about blogging it is your own world. I’m surprised at how much I’ve been able to learn about myself and the way I look at life and how I think about things, just by blogging. Keep up the good work. Sorry that comment was so long.
How’s the Spanish going, and how are you learning it? I’m hitting the Pimsleur course on mp3, which I highly recommend.
I run a web design co. in Spain. WP has changed my life, and business. Cheers for that, Matt.
Hey, Matt. Great essay, can you tell us what books you’re reading about business?
My favorite of the past few years is Black Swan. I’m not very good at keeping a list of what I’ve read, unfortunately.
Black Swan – I heard about that book, I’ll mark it as “have to read”.
Thanks Matt for suggestion.
Hey Matt! I came across your name at FB interestingly because of blogging, browsed your page and pressed “like” then it took me again ages before I seriously starts to read your blogs and one that caught my eye was your post about airport security and led me to this article. It’s funny, coz it feels like you have shared your world by posting this. And when you mentioned Philippines, I laughed my heart out, geez, maybe that’s just we how party here huh. But would love to start my own blogging site, I’m just not very good yet with expressing myself, and got tons of thoughts to download from my head. I’m a newbie to WordPress and The Lonely Marketer was helpful too. SO here I am, about to unleash my yearning desire to blog!! Thanks to you 🙂 Keep it up, you inspire us all!!
Hi Matt, Greetings from China 🙂
“For WordPress we’re trying to set up a community that will be around 10 to 30 years from now, one that’s independent from the whims of the market.”
I love this bold statement, reminds me of the LongNow concept: http://www.longnow.org
Great to be in this community.
i’m a artist and the minds of programmers and IT people have always fascinated me,
i like the idea of being in ” the zone ”
the same goes for music –
focus and fluidity and a little bit obsessive behavior :3
I dont usually read long articles such as this, but i must say, I read the entire thing, very well written. Your working hours sound pretty much the same as mine, afternoons my brain hibernates. In the evening it switches on, then the clock ticks away. Also as for being in the zone with music, I have my iPod on right now, the music helps focus and block out distractions, especially when I paint. Great article Matt
Although or maybe because the article is already more than 2 years old, I thought of commenting on it. I bet a lot of aspects you mention have changed in those two years. E.g.: do you still make it to sleep without having to get up to an alarm clock? Maybe kind of strange, but for me this is one of the most fascinating aspects in your article (which doesn’t mean the other aspects aren’t, of course). This is real luxury here, and also quite a healthy thing to do 🙂
Regards from Greece,
Yep, I still do that 99% of the time.
THANK YOU for saying you do your best work mid-morning and from 1-5 am, and that you need a lot of sleep. I struggle constantly with this as I’d like to have a “normal sleep schedule” but when I get really into working at 2am I just can’t stop myself because it’s fun. I can’t force myself to sleep, and I can’t seem to get the hang of napping–when I try it I end up feeling very groggy and strange, like I’ve split my day into two days. Maybe I have to practice napping.
Also, here is how I learned to cook: I turned it into a game. I chose 10 recipes per level and when I “levelled up” I would buy myself cooking gadgets. After a few levels I didn’t need the game anymore because I was excited about cooking by itself. I used to hate cooking and considered it a chore and now I have a lot of fun with it. Turning it into a game made me able to create achievable chunks and easy “wins” that kept me motivated. I think games have a huge potential to help us learn new things.
It’s awesome to me that even though you are famous and successful it sounds like you make your time your own and truly enjoy life. And the heart that comes through in all that you do is personally inspiring to me. Thank you!
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