Human for a year

I celebrated my 1 year anniversary with Human Made a few months ago. I wrote up a review for our company P2 but realized I haven’t said much over here. The following is a slightly edited version of that one year recap.

Last year, the Monday following Thanksgiving was my first official day as a Human. I think it’s poignant that my anniversary at Human Made falls in line with Thanksgiving (leaving the historical context of the slaughter of thousands of Native Americans aside for a moment) because I have much to be thankful for.

I have a tendency toward antiauthoritarianism. I stopped working traditional 9-5 jobs because I always ended up in these awkward situations where I (intentionally or unintentionally) challenged authority and ended up getting myself into trouble of one sort or another. It happened pretty consistently until ultimately I decided to start freelancing so my only boss was myself. I bring this up because since moving from freelance to agency work, I have gotten into similar situations (though not nearly as extreme) and it comes from having fairly strong opinions and wanting to voice them and then expecting that someone actually listen to and acknowledge those opinions. This was a fundamental difference in moving from a normal “backend developer” to “developer lead” at WebDevStudios — suddenly, when I became a lead, my opinions and thoughts felt like they mattered. People were listening when they weren’t before. And it made me more inclined to try to champion the ideas and opinions of the developers on my team(s) because I knew that I was often their only representative to make sure their ideas were heard.

Imagine how refreshing it feels, now, to be here at Human Made, where — as far as I can tell — we’re all extremely opinionated, we all demand that our ideas be acknowledged and, hey, they actually are!

More than the work, more than the dedication to open source, more than the people — though I love you all dearly — this is the thing I am most thankful for in my first year (of many!) as a Human. The acknowledgement that we are all valuable, that all of us have ideas that are valuable, and that we all deserve to be treated with compassion and understanding and empathy. I truly feel valued here and I am thankful every single day (and sometimes, still, a little amazed — am I dreaming?) to be lucky enough to be part of this truly inspirational and awe-inspiring team.

When I applied to Human Made more than a year ago, I really expected nothing to come of it. I had loads of imposter syndrome but I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I was pretty clear on that, actually. I wanted to be treated with respect. I wanted transparency in the company and processes and I wanted the ability to speak up if I had ideas about the company — or what it was doing — without fear of retribution. I wanted the acknowledgement that I am not my work, I have other commitments — to my own open source contributions, to WordCamp and the local WordPress community, to my family, to my own health and sanity — and that those things  

Human Made was one of the few companies that actually ticked all those boxes. And I was a little shocked and disbelieving when Tom replied to me and that Joe gave me the time of day and somewhere in that process I was given a trial project and that everyone on that project was so amazing and warm and that, despite feeling like I contributed basically nothing to the project because it was such early days, I still hear, a year later, that some of my code is still there and valued by the team.

Back when I was freelancing — which was before Automattic really exploded, when they were still <100 people — I would longingly gaze at their Work With Us page. I would read stories about what the work environment is like, drool over the benefits, talk to Automatticians and generally try to suck up as much information as possible about Automattic. I said, that right there is my dream job. And that was what I aspired toward. I applied numerous times for various positions, went through a couple interview processes, even did a trial project once, but nothing really fit. Eventually, frustrated, I put it on the back burner for a future attempt “when I’m ready”, still ultimately thinking that Automattic was my dream job and that I would apply again, if they’d still have me.

 I no longer think that Automattic is my dream job. Or even remotely close, if I’m honest. My dream job is working for Human Made. And I am thankful to all of you for welcoming me, for valuing me (and each other), and for making this team truly the best to work with and the only gig I ever want to have.

I got an incredible amount of positive feedback for this post, including the following which makes me feel like I’ve found the right place:

You represent Human Made so much for me that I couldn’t imagine HM without you!

Since I wrote this, I met about half the company again at WCUS in Nashville where we hung out, visited a record pressing factory together and had our first US-based end-of-year meal. Every day I feel lucky to be a part of this incredible group of individuals.

 I no longer think that Automattic is my dream job. Or even remotely close, if I’m honest. My dream job is working for Human Made. And I am thankful to all of you for welcoming me, for valuing me (and each other), and for making this team truly the best to work with and the only gig I ever want to have.

I got an incredible amount of positive feedback for this post, including the following which makes me feel like I’ve found the right place:

You represent Human Made so much for me that I couldn’t imagine HM without you!

Since I wrote this, I met about half the company again at WCUS in Nashville where we hung out, visited a record pressing factory together and had our first US-based end-of-year meal. Every day I feel lucky to be a part of this incredible group of individuals.

I’ve joined Human Made!


This week, I started the next chapter of my great adventure — joining the team at Human Made.

Over the last roughly two and a half years, I’ve worked at WebDevStudios — one of the top WordPress-focused development agencies. When I joined, I was plopped in the middle of a project for the United States National Park Service with no development lead at the time and over the course of the next year, I was able to wrangle that and a subsequent project for NPS together, ultimately earning myself a promotion to developer lead largely as a result of my work on NPS.

You know that imposter syndrome stuff? You can’t have that lingering around when you’re working projects for the US Government or Microsoft or MotorTrend, and I had to shed that pretty quickly and adapt to agency development for brands that I not only recognized, but who are ubiquitous, like Campbell’s.

However, as I transitioned more into my role as a lead, I ended up being more deeply involved in things that didn’t bring me joy and excitement — namely, management stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my team and I enjoy being a leader and a resource, but the day-to-day administrative tasks of being a lead outweighed actual development and I learned (fairly quickly) that the thing I enjoy most is coding. Leading projects and architecting development, sure, but also actually writing the code for those projects and things that I’ve architected.

Much of the time I spent as a lead, I was pretty unhappy. I was stressed, I took work home after I signed off for the day, I had very little to look forward to the next day because every day was just a series of calls interspersed with pings and reviewing and updating tasks. The only time I ever got to write any code was on our #FiveForTheFuture days, and if the workload was too busy, those days occasionally were cancelled. I can be pretty good at whatever I put my mind to, but my heart wasn’t in it when my day-to-day tasks involved reviewing other people’s work and being present on anywhere between 2 and 6 calls a day.

I don’t want this to sound like WDS is a bad place or a bad employer. They are actively working to get their leads more involved in development. Hopefully things are heading in the right direction now. But I also know that different people enjoy different things and have different skill sets, and, for me, I can do all those administrative and managerial things, but I don’t enjoy doing those things. I kept coming back to a thing I had heard about Automattic’s structure where there is no pay increase associated with being a “lead” — you just are. And if you no longer want to be a lead, you aren’t. There’s no promotion/demotion involved, it’s just a hat you put on. And if you find that the hat doesn’t fit, you take it off. I felt trapped by being a lead and it was affecting my mental health and my life at home.

There are a lot of really cool companies out there for remote workers interested in building things for WordPress. Among those really cool companies, many of them offer amazing benefits that include flexible/unlimited vacation days. Since we like to go camping, and since doing that leaves me recharged and energized and able to take on work again when I come back, I knew that some place that had a generous policy for vacation was going to matter a lot. And most of those companies take a really honest view of employee well-being and all of these things that I’d been struggling with for the past year. So I tossed my resume into the ether, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.

And it was Tom who finally reached out.

That list of “really cool companies for remote workers interested in building things for WordPress”? Human Made is consistently at or near the top of that list. They are truly global, with “offices” in London and Australia and tend to attract the best of the best. So, I was bouncing in my seat a little as we arranged for a chat time on Slack and as I went through the interview process. I was offered a trial, worked with a team of Aussies and got to know the team and their processes.

The thing that was, has been, and still is most exciting to me, though, is actually writing code again. And the opportunity to learn. HM does things differently than WDS — they have different coding standards, build different types of applications, and try hard to be on the bleeding edge of what is happening in enterprise WordPress development. I could see right away that I have so much to learn and it excited me and made me realize that I had been feeling stagnant for a long time.

I enjoyed my time at WebDev and I learned a ton while I was there. Now I’m thrilled to be joining a team of people who unironically refer to each other as “humans”, who encourage and foster growth and actively take care of, and advocate for their team members.

The single greatest contribution to open source by WordPress is documentation

I’m going to throw an idea out there, and that is that the single, most important contribution that WordPress has made to open source software as a whole is documentation.

When I first started using WordPress 8 or so years ago, that was the biggest difference between WordPress and other platforms. You could search for something and actually find the answer. There was even a huge wiki dedicated to how to use — and modify — the platform: the Codex. With other open source web application software platforms at the time, documentation was always scarce. The first Magento project I worked on, I had to teach myself how their theming system worked. Likewise for ZenCart and Joomla!. This self-education takes time, and this is the whole reason we say “I am a WordPress developer” as opposed to “I am a web developer.” Sure, I have skills that extend beyond WordPress, but I know WordPress in a way that I don’t know other platforms. I am much more able to work on the fly on something I’ve never tried before in WordPress than I am on a roll-your-own platform or some other CMS. And the availability of documentation plays a huge role in this.

The two WordPress-specific businesses I’ve worked for — Event Espresso and WebDevStudios — both have had their own, internal documentation based (at least in part) on the WordPress Codex. That’s in addition to the user documentation that’s readily available for most premium plugins. The docs may not always be complete — and they may not always be good — but they are there and you can usually find answers. Plugin developers specifically are motivated to provide good documentation to eliminate the amount of support requests they get via support forums. These support forums are a form of documentation, too. I asked a question on a Magento forum a few years ago and I don’t think I ever got a satisfactory answer back. If that happened on a WordPress forum, the hounds of hell would be unleashed on the plugin author or, at the very least, everyone would start to avoid that plugin. If it was a WordPress core component, a Trac ticket would crop up pretty quickly with a long discussion about how best to solve the problem and, eventually, a fix would get built into WordPress core.

WordPress people are always talking, always communicating, and this is part of what helps WordPress grow. The first blog platform I used was sBlog, which had little-to-no documentation and a very small community around it. If you’ve never heard of it before, that’s because it doesn’t exist anymore. A slightly better platform I played with for a couple years (which does still exist) is Ampache, a web-based music player where a lot of discussion and documentation happened in the forums or else in the IRC channel on Freenode. But because there aren’t blog posts about “I built this awesome thing with Ampache” — and because there isn’t the amount of documentation for Ampache to help developers build awesome things — not many people know it exists.

And that’s part of the reason why I was initially lured into the Docs contributor team. WordPress documentation is a huge part of how I got where I am today, it’s what sets WordPress apart and helps it grow, and it’s vitally important to the continued success and growth of the software. But what I’ve noticed in those years since first toying with Joomla, Magento ZenCart, sBlog, and Ampache, is that other projects now have more documentation available, and put more of an emphasis on documentation. Look at HTML5 Boilerplate or Bootstrap. Look at Git and jQuery. Spend some time on StackExchange. There are tons of answers out there now, answers that weren’t there for us 8 years ago. I feel like the success of WordPress has brought with it the rise of better documentation — and those platforms that fail at documentation get passed over by ones that have documentation. And that documentation increases in relevance and quality as things like MediaWiki have cropped up and allowed for the crowdsourcing of said documentation so that anyone can be an editor or an author of a tutorial or code reference. Yes, I credit at least some of this to the popularity and rise of WordPress as a publishing platform, and I suggest that it is the most valuable contribution by WordPress to open source software. Even if WordPress someday fades, its’ footprint will be left by the emphasis on — and prevalence of — good documentation.

Is it possible that my glasses are rose-tinted because of my involvement in the WordPress community? Sure. But the thing is, WordPress is the most common CMS in the world. More than 20% of the web is built on WordPress and the percentage of new sites using WordPress is even higher. So, one way or another, other projects will need to learn by the example set by WordPress if they want to stick it out and become a viable platform that people can pick up and use without having to dig through lines of code to figure out how.