Podcast Episode

392 – A Look Inside an Automattic Team Meetup Week

Announcements

Is there a plugin for that?

With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.

For more great plugins, download my 50 Most Useful Plugins eBook.

Years Since is a plugin that can help you to keep your website updated with dates on your about page etc.

A Look Inside an Automattic Team Meetup Week

Sunday

  • Up at 4:30am to get to the airport in Dayton
  • Landed in Montreal and navigated to the hotel by 11:30am
  • Live chat and tickets with the team
  • O’Noir with the team for dinner

Monday

  • Quick 40 minute walk to start the morning
  • 9am roll call
  • WooCommerce case studies (sample examples of store configurations) until lunch
  • Lunch
  • More case study work until about 5:30pm
  • Quick call home with the family
  • WordPress 15th celebration with the Montreal WordPress Meetup Group
  • Dinner at Else’s with teammates
  • Bed by 11pm

Tuesday

  • Up early for a walk (70 minutes)
  • Met the team at 9:30a
  • Spent time setting up a complex Booking / Subscription / Membership site
  • Quick lunch and ate on the hotel’s rooftop
  • Metro to the other side of the city for team building activity of Escape the Room
  • Back to the office for 2 hours of wrap-up work for the day
  • A handful went to a karaoke place and a few hiked up Mont Royal to watch the full moon rise. It was awesome!
  • Then walked back to the hotel for an awesome 20,000+ step day

Wednesday

  • Recorded podcast and published
  • Up early for another walk
  • Got to the coworking space early to take care of some personal moving items
  • Worked on Case Study 4
  • Venezuelan lunch
  • Axe throwing at Rage
  • Notre Dame light show
  • Localmattician dinner
  • Drinks and dessert on the rooftop of the hotel

Thursday

  • Later start to the day with the team, still took a long walk since I’d be traveling most of the day
  • First order of business was to take a team photo and it included Jen on an iPad since she wasn’t able to make the trip
  • Then we worked a bit on wrapping up the team project
  • I took a Tesla Taxi to the airport
  • Flew to Atlanta, (sidenote, I hate flying the wrong direction when traveling)
  • Sat in Atlanta for a few hours and watched the NBA finals
  • Finally made it home at 12:30am Eastern time

Takeaways

  • I learned a lot about my team mates while walking to events
  • I picked up some neat workflows that will make me more efficient
  • I enjoyed sharing my knowledge about WooCommerce to those who don’t focus on WooCommerce support

Thank You!

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Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

In today's episode, I'm going to share the details of last week's team meetup, the team that I'm on, at Automattic, went to Montreal, and we’re gonna talk all about it right here on your website engineered podcast, episode number 392. Hello and welcome back to another episode of your website engineer podcast. My name is Dustin Hartzler; I'm excited to be here with you this week, back in my studio, and back after a big move. That's right, I've been leading up to this and I'm dropping hints in here over the course of the last few episodes, but I've moved from one area in Dayton to another area in Dayton. It's a temporary move for the summer as we are getting ready to build a house.

The last couple weeks have just been really crazy around the Hartzler household. I had this team meetup, that was last week that I talked about, and then this past weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I spent the entire weekend just moving stuff, and can't realize and don't understand why we have so much stuff, and we'll be definitely working on a plan to get rid of some of this stuff over the summer, while we're at a rental place for the summer, as they're getting ready to start building our house this week. What I wanted to share with you this week, it's just a little recap about what a meetup looks like at Automattic.

This is mainly just because I do this, I have a team meetup usually once per year, and then there's the grand meetup that happens. I just want to give you a little glimpse into what it's like to work at Automattic and what it's like to go on these team meetups and see what it's like to just spend time with colleagues that I've never met before and what we kind of look like. So, we'll do that in just a couple minutes. I've got three announcements and a plugin to share with you. The first announcement is a, it's kind of a post that's written over on Jack Lennox’ blog and this is a post talking about WordPress delivering WordPress in seven kilobytes.

This is – Jack works at Automattic and he was trying to figure out a way to reduce the carbon footprint of the internet or of his website on the Internet. So, he spent a lot of time, he built this plugin, or he built this theme, and it was the theme called Susty for sustainability and it is over – you can find out more and you can load this website at sustywp.com. And he was able to load the entire homepage down to seven kilobytes worth of data. He said that he actually got it down to six kilobytes, but the Meta stuff added by Yost bumped it up by a whole kilobyte, and it is really, really fast. It scores 100 out of 100 on performance via Google's Lighthouse.
It gets straight A's on webpagetest.org and it just devastates most benchmarks with an average render time or first byte time of .15 seconds and fully rendered within half a second, and it is hosted on Data Center, which is 100 percent powered by renewable energy There's a big long post; they're talking about how he did this, and I just recommend checking out sustywp.com, and it is really fast, and it loads incredibly well. So, if you're looking for a way to speed up your website, this would be a post definitely for you to read.

The second piece of announcement that I want to share with you, the second thing is all about Word Camp US is now accepting speaker proposals until July 1, and so that's about three, three and a half weeks for the Word Camp that's happening December 7, 8, and 9 in Nashville, Tennessee. And you think that, “Oh, this is a long way out,” well, there's a lot that has to be done, probably takes a month or so for them to figure out who they want to have as speakers, and then start communicating with them, and making sure they can still come, and getting them all organized in one night.

So, you've got about three and a half weeks if you want to speak at Word Camp US this year, and if you want to see a list of the sessions and speakers, you can find that in the post, as well, to give you some ideas of what to talk about. And it's interesting to know that within Word Camp US, when they pick their speakers, they pick it 100 percent based on the title in the summary; there is no judgment or bias based on who has put in the summary, so, or who has submitted the proposal. So, big name people; it's not all big name people, it can be your very first time speaking at a Word Camp.

If you have a session that's very, very interesting, and that some people are interested in, the organizers are interested in hearing, and they will definitely pick your session. So, those is that, but please note, too, that there are hundreds and hundreds of people that are submitting proposals, and most of them will submit multiple things. So, I think I'll put a submission in this year. I haven't spoken at a Word Camp US, and maybe this year will be my year. So that is Word Camp US. And then the last thing is I just want to give you a heads up that I will be heading to Kent.

It is Word Camp Kent just a few weeks after Word Camp Dayton, so, two of the Ohio camps are real close to each other, and we are – I'll be speaking there on WooCommerce. That's kind of been my theme of 2018, talking about WooCommerce. It's just a high level spiel to get you started with WooCommerce, and how you can get set up and ready to go with a store, in about an hour's time. So, that is what I'll be doing this weekend. Alright, moving onto, there is a plugin for that section, there is one, and this is a really cool plugin. It is a super basic plugin, but it is so cool. It's called Years Sense.

It’s a plugin, a free one on the WordPress repository and it is a little gem of a plugin that will allow you to keep your text updated. So, something like this, you may, on your About page, maybe you have. I have worked for 10 years in web development. Well, that quickly becomes outdated every year, and so this is a plugin that keeps these type of timespan references up to date with assemble short code, so you can say we've worked remotely for, and then in a short code, say years since 2012, which has allowed our team to spend more time traveling and spending time with family.

So then, that would render out to saying, “We've worked remotely for seven years, or eight years, or six years, whatever the time pace you put in there, and I think that's really cool. It's a really neat way to keep that About page updated, because I know that I don't do a good job of this, and I know that that's something that probably slips by a lot of folks’ fingers when keeping their website updated. So, that's the plugin. It's called Years Since and you can find it on the WordPress repository, or the link is in the show notes for episode number 392. Alright, let's go ahead and talk about my meetup. This was the first time that I have been on a meetup since the grand meetup of last year. This is the first time that I've been on a meetup with my current team, Hum.

I am on a hybrid WooCommerce wordpress.com team, so I'm the only member that is a fully functioning WooCommerce happiness engineer, working alongside a team of wordpress.com engineers, and now that wordpress.com for business has this opportunity to install plugins and themes, they're starting to get a lot of questions about WooCommerce, how to set up WooCommerce, what kind of extensions are needed for WooCommerce. So, we're starting this experiment; it's a six month experiment which will allow me to move to this other team, and then I'm trying to teach, and engage in, and share as much information that I can about woo commerce.

I'm learning a lot about wordpress.com business sites, so it's a great time kind of mix and interaction between this team. So, it's a team that I've only, in person met, I think about three or four people on the team, ever before, and so it was a new experience to go and meet a lot of my new colleagues, which was super fun.

So, we had a week long meetup and I was able to leave; I ended up leaving a day later or, I arrived a day later and I left a day early, so I was there a little bit shorter, condensed, and mainly because my daughter had a dance recital on the first day of the team meetup, or the travel day, and then, since there's a short flight to Montreal from Ohio, I was able to slide in on Sunday morning and then I left on Thursday afternoon, because I needed to be home on Friday to start this whole moving process transaction thingamabob that involved my entire weekend.

So, let's go ahead and just kind of run down what happened during the days, and then I got a few key takeaways of things that happened and things that I learned about over the course of the weekend. On Sunday morning I was up at about 4:30 in the morning to head on over to the airport. Like I said, I was trying to get there early. I ended up going through Detroit, and I was able to land in Montreal by 10:00. I think 10:15 was the time that I landed. I went through customs and immigration, all that good stuff, and then I met one of my colleagues Samantha, right there at the airport.

We had never met, but instantly we became friends and we took a cab from the airport to the hotel. The hotel, we got there about 11:30 and our team was already there. Most of them were already there and they were assembled, and Sunday was our support day since we’re a team of happiness engineers, we can't just go on a meetup for an entire week and just ignore our normal day-to-day duties and assignments, because we are involved with that customer interacting support; we need to provide support. So, typically on a meetup like this, we do our general work, our one day’s worth of work, and we kind of all group it together.

So, Sunday was our team day and tickets, and we spent a lot of time working on live chat. I was sharing live chat links for WooCommerce, and so folks could watch and experience what a WooCommerce chat looks like. We had a few folks that do business one-on-one calls, and so they were sharing that information. We could listen in onto those conversations and how have those chats work, and we just got a lot done. We just kind of ramped up and tried to get in gear so we were ready to let the rest of the teams that were back home working, so that we didn't have to worry about working on tickets the rest of the week.
So, that's what we did. And then we went to a cool restaurant called Anwar, and it is a restaurant. It was our team dinner. It was our first night together, and so I still hadn't met a lot of people, and just barely knew people's names, but we went in and it was a restaurant, and it was served in complete darkness, and it was 100 percent dark. You could not see, your eyes never adjusted to the light. It was completely black in there. And we ate in this restaurant, and the wait – the entire experience was served by a blind wait staff, and so it just gave us a real neat opportunity to listen, hear people's voices, which is really crazy, because we never get to do that. We always see people typing.

Being able to listen and get to know people by their personalities and their voices was a really cool experience. Plus, trying to eat without being able to see at all was a really different and unique situation. I know that there was a couple times that I was having a salad and I was too lazy to try to like, “Okay, where is the rest of the food on my plate?” I just put my plate up to my mouth and just kinda shoveled it right in. Of course, nobody could see, because it was completely dark in there. It was a really cool experience. It was a neat way to use other senses, instead of just mindlessly eating and looking at your food. So that was super, super cool, and that was a Sunday.

Generally on these team meetups we don't start super, super early, because folks like to stay up late, but I am the kind of guy that likes to go to bed early and then get up early. So, I got up early and had a quick 40-minute walk to start the morning. I've been on this long streak of I'm getting 10,000 steps per day ever since December of last year, and clearing, or completing my rings on my Apple Watch. So, I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of time to do that, so I got a good 40-minute walk in, listened to a few podcasts, and then 9:00 AM was roll call time. I'd been up for several hours by the time that that happened. And we had roll call.

We were all ready after breakfast and we started doing some case studies until lunch. The WooCommerce case studies, there was four different ones that we worked on, and they were basically like they were sample tickets, and we had to try to figure out what plugins that we would need to use, and how would we configure them, and how would we set up the shipping zones, and what kind of payment gateways, and it was really pretty cool. Our team was really concerned when we first started on Monday, because they had never really used WooCommerce before.

But as we continued to work for the week, everybody got more comfortable and felt a lot better about WooCommerce, which was really cool to see. So, we did that until lunch. We did some more lunch, or we did some more case study work after lunch. I did a quick call home from the family after work was over before we headed out for our evening activities. I love the technology of FaceTime, being able to FaceTime my family back home, talk to them for a little while, while on the team meet up. And then we headed out to a WordPress, a 15th anniversary celebration. The local Montreal group had this party, if you will, and it was a cool little thing.

I do have to say that we really kind of just stuck together like it was our first full day together as a team, so we basically sat around and talked to ourselves and talked about celebrating WordPress. But, we did that, and then we headed over to a restaurant that was close to a hotel called Elsa's that – for dinner, and they had some amazing, amazing shrimp tacos which were awesome. And I may have went to bed a little later than I wanted to that night, but that's kind of the wrap of Monday. So, we got a lot done in – during the day.

We normally worked until about 6:00, 9:00 to 6:00 was kind of our range, with a couple hour break in there for lunch, but we got a lot done, and we felt really comfortable with where we were and how much progress we're making, just on the first full day of the meet up. On Tuesday I went on a long walk. We had until 9:30 that morning, so I went on about a little over an hour walk, just exploring the city, just checking out what things are around, looking at things, looking at buildings, and just kind of I'm getting a to start to the day. We met, like I said, at 9:30, and then we spent time setting up this really complex bookings subscription membership site.

It was like a gym, and they wanted to be able to have members in the gym have access to setting up a consultation with a trainer, but that was a paid thing. And then anybody that was part of a membership and was paying the reoccurring subscription could reserve bookings, or reserve space inside the gym, and they could order products and get discounts, and it was the most complex thing; one of the most complex WooCommerce sites, that even I had set up to date. So, that took us a long, long time. We did a quick lunch; lunch was like, go grab something from one of these restaurants that were real close. I had some Thai food and we went up to the hotel’s rooftop to eat.
It was a little quaint, kind of a boutiquey-type hotel that we stayed in. It had, on the fourth floor, it had this rooftop, and we spent a lot of time up there, both during the day for some lunches and in the evenings just to relax and kind of decompress. And so, we did that real fast, and got up there, ate on the rooftop, and then we had to go to the other side of the city for a team-building activity, and it was an Escape the Room. So, we rented a couple different Escape the Room challenges, and the team that I was on, there was five of us, and we were able to escape both rooms with time remaining, which was really fun.

It was a cool way to meet and hang out with folks, and just kind of, again, learn how they think, and learn how to work together as a team in a physical environment, because we don't get to do that very often in this high-tech digital world, if you will. So, we went back after we did the escape room, we did about two more hours of work. We wrapped up for the day, and then some people, we kind of – it was like, choose your own adventure this night. A few people headed off to a karaoke place, and a few went with me, and we hiked up Mount Royale; that's where the name of Montreal comes from, it’s Mont Royal, and we watched the full moon rise.

This was really cool and it was just the luck of the draw. We were there on a night that the full moon rose. We got to the top of the hill, we could see over the city, and we could see the moon just kind of erupting over the site, or over the buildings, in downtown; I'll have a picture of that for the show notes here. And it was really cool. It was – ended up having a big, long day. It was more than 20,000 steps for the day, by the time we walked over to the mountain, and then by the time we walked all the way back and just a fun day, kind of hanging out. There was only four of us that went up the mountain. And so, just kind of get to know those four people, as well, and trying to figure out is this the best way or not.

We had zero maps, and the trail went all over the place, and it was a good hike, and we had a lot of fun there. So, that was on Tuesday. On Wednesday we ended up, I ended up, getting up early, and I got up earlier than I wanted to, because I had a podcast to record that I didn't do. So, that was last week's episode, talking about the tech podcasts that I listen to. And then I went for another walk after the podcast was published and recorded, and I got to the co-working space a little earlier than everybody else, because I needed some solid Wi-Fi, and I had to take care of some personal moving items, some of the things that I needed to get done and rearranged to make sure that everything was in place for the Friday move. I had to do all of that, and it was kinda hard to do when I didn't have actual access. I couldn't call anybody, because I was in a different country. And so, I got a lot of that done and then we worked on the last case study, and this was like building a coffee shop that had a subscription model, that had product bundles, and had a bunch of other things, and we spent the bulk of the day working through this case study, because it was our last day and we just had finally cracked the nut. Most people were feeling very comfortable with WooCommerce and, “Oh, these are the plugins that we may use and okay, let's do this and set this up.”

We kinda did this one as a big team, kind of everybody worked on it themselves, but we talked,, and we shared the details and, “This is the plugin I'm going to use,” and, “I think we should use this to translate this from French to English,” and things like that. So, we finished that up. We went to a Venezuelan place for lunch. It was a super unique situation, because on my team I have three people from Brazil, one from Venezuela, and one from Peru, and then the rest are in North America for, let's see, there's a total of 12 of us, so the other seven are in North America.

And in this lunch it was really funny, because in the Venezuelan they were speaking in Spanish and so, the folks from Venezuela and Peru were speaking in Spanish, and we were all trying our hand at Spanish, and it was just kind of this weird thing that we're in a country that primarily speaks French and nobody at the table were speaking French; we had all these other languages. So, that was super fun.

Then, we – once we did that, we got in cars, we Ubered over to a place to do ax throwing; that was kind of our team challenge for the day, which was kind of cool, and I didn't realize, I thought we would just go and, “Okay, we're gonna throw axes at this board and that should be kind of fun,” but it was actually kind of scored like bowling, and so you had every round you got three throws and you scored your best one.

There was 10 frames, and it was kind of neat. It was cool to try. It was definitely a team-bonding experience and we definitely had a lot of a hammer, or a lot of axes, that we're hitting the ground and splintering would everywhere, so, that was fun. And then, we all jumped in the car, most of us jumped in the car, to head over to a cathedral, the Notre Dame cathedral, or Notre Dame cathedral, and they had a 15-minute light show, and it was really cool; the whole cathedral lit up, and these lights, and they had these light show, and it kind of had different music, and sounds, and stuff, and it was a really, really cool experience. And it was crazy to think, the whole time I'm watching this, and I'm like, “How did they do this on a building that's hundreds of years old that had no electricity when they first started?” Like, “How did they retrofit this thing to actually do that? So, that was cool, and then we, after that, we jumped in, we had too much to do this day, but then we headed over to another restaurant, kind of over by Mont Royal again, and it was the local metician dinner and this was, there's a few folks that live in Montreal that are part of Automattic.

And so we all got together just to spend some time just kind of hanging out, and kind of decompressing from the week of work that we had done. Then we were thinking about doing dessert, and all the ice cream places were closed, because we stayed at dinner too long. And so as we walked back, we stopped at the grocery store and we purchased some drinks and some desserts and headed up to the rooftop, and stayed at the hotel, just on the rooftop, just hanging out. I stayed about an hour; my curfew was about 10:00 or 11:00 and that's all I could handle, and they, the rest of my team was up there for many, many hours more.

Granted, some of those folks are much younger than me and like to stay up that late, but that was that. And then the last day for me was on Thursday. It was a later start because of those folks stayed up so late. I still took a long walk. I got some steps in. I completed most of my rings and what-not right there in the morning. And then the first order of business was to take a team photo, and we tried to figure out a good place to take a team photo. There was a park that was right next door that we're like, “Oh, we can go over there; we can find somebody that can take a photo from us.” We had one of our colleagues that wasn't able to make it.

Her husband was having some eye issues and she didn't want to leave her kids with him, and when it was his eye was contagious. And so she ended up staying at home, but we involved her in pretty much everything that we could via Zoom on the iPad, and for this activity, for our team photo, we actually took her, we took an iPad, tethered the iPad to a phone that had data, and walked out into the park, and kind of showed her the park, and then held her up in the picture. So, that was super fun. We were able to have her as part of our week and she was able to do all the activities. She was on Zoom the whole time.

It was a little bit different, because it was different work hours and she had to do it from home, but it worked out in the end for everyone. So, that's was that. We worked for a bit. We wrapped up the team project, and then the team kind of dispersed and did some fun things in that evening, but I had to head home; I wanted to be home by Friday, and so I took a Tesla. It was a special company out there. It was called Bon Jour, and it was a company that had – you could get a regular car in one or two minutes, but if you wanted to get a renewable energy car, like a Tesla, you had to wait like 15 minutes. I wasn't in too big of a hurry.

So I'm like, “Yeah, I'm gonna ride in a Tesla to the airport.” So, I took the Tesla to the airport. I got there plenty early, especially for my double security check. They had to go through all the items in my bag. They had to swipe down my hands. They had me turn on all my appliance, or all my electronics, to make sure that those function and work, I had to go through the X-ray machine, and then go through customs, and all that stuff, so it took a little while. I'm glad I had plenty of time getting there. And then, I had to head to Atlanta. I hate traveling this way, going from somewhere that, and then to Atlanta, that's not even anywhere close to the flight plan.

So I spent a lot more time in the air than I should have, but that was the only option for coming home and arriving home on Thursday night. I sat in Atlanta for a few hours. I watched a little bit of the NBA finals, because I'm a big Cavs fan and wanted to see what that game started to turn out like. And so, then I got home finally about 12:30 in the morning, and then we started moving at 7:00 the next morning. So, completely exhausted and had a lot of fun at the meetup. So, a few takeaways that I got out of the team meet up. I learned a lot about my teammates. We had a lot of time, like travel time, if you will.

So, whether we were walking to a restaurant, or riding in an Uber somewhere, or waiting for dinner, there was a lot of opportunity just to turn to whoever was sitting next to you and just learn about them, especially with those five folks from South America, I learned so much, and it was so cool to see a little bit – glimpse into their lives and what their culture's like, and what it's like living in those countries, in those cities, and what-not. So, that was pretty cool.

We don't get that opportunity very often when we come to work, when we're online and we're in Slack, we're just doing our thing, and we don't really ask a whole lot like, “Oh, what are you doing this weekend,” and, “What's it like in your country?” and things like that. So, that was super cool. Also, on the day we were working, I got to pick up some cool workflows and some things that I'm gonna change in my day-to-day activities and strategies to make it easier, and more quickly, and more efficient for me to do some work. So, that was nice. I really enjoyed being able to do that. And then, I also enjoyed sharing knowledge about WooCommerce.

A lot of people were like, “Oh, what plugin should we use for this?” and I was like, “I don’t know, what do you think? What kind of functionality were you trying to add?” And so, just being kind of a teacher as part of it was a really cool experience, as well. I love teaching at Word Camps, and doing webinars, and things like that. So, doing an in-person thing was really, really cool, and we could talk through some of the ideas and like, “Oh, this is how I would do it,” like what – kind of feeling out what other people did.

And we learned that we thought that, “Oh, we really need this plugin to do this,” but then, other people made different assumptions about the case study and was able to complete it without any additional plugins. So, that was pretty cool. So, overall it was a hectic week. We got a lot work done. We got little sleep that we should. We had a lot less sleep than we should have, but we had a good time.

We got to connect and we got to really know each other. Now, when I see people's messages inside of Slack, I can completely hear their voices, I can understand; I just know so much more, and it just makes that bond tighter and we can communicate better as a team; we can work more efficiently as a team. So, that's what happens on a team meetup. Usually, there's a few more days. I was able to kind of squeeze in a few less days, just based on personal activity. And then, I won't see these folks again, or most other of my colleagues, until Word, or for the grand meetup which will happen in late September, early October.

So, it'll be a while until I see any more people face-to-face, other than the few that live around here. So, that's just what I want to share today, just kind of a behind-the-scenes look at what a team week, team meetup looks like. And if you are interested in applying at Automattic, we're always looking for more high-quality developers and happiness engineers, and you can head on over to Automattic.com and click on the Work with Us tab, and I'll show you all the details, and how to get involved, and how to send over an application. That's what I want to share with you this week. Next week we'll talk about WordPress again and we'll get back into the swing of things with whatever's happening in the WordPress space. Until then, take care, and we'll talk again soon. Bye-bye.

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