I started working at Automattic on April 25th, 2011 (that’s right, my 4th anniversary at the company is coming up in a few weeks). I found out about the company while working on my master’s project at UNC. My master’s project involved building a WordPress theme for community newspapers called Citizen Press. The idea for the theme was for it to serve as an alternative to expensive commercial platforms. I spent MONTHS working on that theme. Lots of tears, joys, frustrations, what not. While working on it, I did a lot of research and learned more about the WordPress community in the process. That research process led me to the ThemeShaper blog in Fall 2009, written at the time by Ian Stewart, who had also built a theme framework that I was closely following. I was bringing a lot of ideas from his framework into Citizen Press. Ian quickly became one of my “WordPress idols”.
Well Ian blogged one day in 2010 that he was joining Automattic as a Theme Wrangler, and of course I clicked over to the company’s website to find out more. I was amazed — the company is distributed, and employees work from their own home offices all over the world, and everyone sets their own hours. They get together a few times a year for meetups, and once a year they bring the entire company together for a grand meetup. I wanted to work for this company!!
I browsed through all of the open positions but didn’t feel qualified for any of them, including Theme Wrangler. So I told myself, one day. I spent the rest of 2010 plugging away at Citizen Press, learning much in the process. In 2011, I saw an article on a WordPress news site about Automattic’s plans to hire new Theme Wranglers that year. I thought to myself, self, you’ve been working all year on this WordPress theme and you’ve learned a LOT in the process. Why not give it a shot? The worst they can say is “no”.
I applied in February 2011. I could not believe it when I heard back a little over a week later! It was like a dream come true. I completed a month-long trial process, followed by joining full time that April. I was suddenly on the same team as Ian. When I joined, the theme team also consisted of Lance Willett, Matias Ventura, and Takashi Irie. The team has grown amazingly since then, with oodles of awesome and talented folks on it. You can see a list of everyone who’s on the team now by visiting the About page on the ThemeShaper blog (which is now the official blog of the Automattic Theme Team). Plus follow the blog for posts on theme development and design.
So what do Theme Wranglers do? They maintain the fantastic collection of themes on WordPress.com, and work on a variety of other cool theme-related projects. Education is also an important aspect. I was on the Theme Team until last spring. In June 2014 I switched to a new team (which I love just as much as I loved the Theme Team) that’s focused on spreading the usage of WordPress throughout the web. I still get to do a lot of theme development, but in a different capacity.
At Automattic, there’s been plenty of room for me to grow as a developer and as a designer. It’s fun to work with colleagues who are talented and enthusiastic about their work. Plus since joining Automattic, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some cool places: London, Budapest (Hungary), Winnipeg (Manitoba), NYC, Kauai (Hawaii), Florence (Italy), Lisbon (Portugal), Portland (Oregon), Park City (UT), Miami, Montreal (Quebec), San Diego, Santa Cruz (CA), and Ventura (CA). I’ve also had a chance to improve my public speaking skills. I’m by no means a seasoned speaker, but it’s encouraging to see how much I have improved now compared to when I first started. I have met many inspiring people at conferences. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds. 🙂
As an aside, what became of Citizen Press? I never did release it after joining Automattic, because I knew that I would be too busy with my Theme Wrangler duties to give it my full attention. I feel bad about that, and maybe one day in the future I will revisit it. News sites with WordPress have become much more common since then. I remember it fondly, since working on it did lead me to my job, even if I didn’t know it at the time.