Podcast Episode

410 – A Summary of Automattic’s 2018 Grand Meetup


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A Summary of Automattic’s 2018 Grand Meetup

– Travel day. Non-stop flight from Columbus was A++
– Got settled into hotel room and watched some college football
– Registered and got my cool swag
– Took a short nap
– Opening night party
– Came back and watched the Buckeyes play Penn State

– Welcome by Matt
– WooCommerce Learn Up
– Ice cream with team
– Team lunch
– Worked on tickets together as a team
– Happiness Happy Hour
– Company Photo
– Team Dinner

– Projects / Classes / Regular Job. I started tackling some issues on YourWebsiteEngineer.com
– Lunch
– Taught my Efficiency Class
– Dinner

– Much like Monday, but added sessions of Flash talks
– Dinner was at Harry Potter World

– Keynote: ARI MEISEL
– Taught Happiness Academy class again
– Dinner with Matt

– Flash talks in the morning
– Office hours until lunch
– Town Hall with Matt (and dinner)

– Keynote: DAN HARRIS
– Office Hours
– Project Demos
– Closing party and fireworks at Epcot

– Homeward bound 🙂

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Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

On today’s episode, we are going to talk all about the Automattic Grand Meetup, which was just this past week, that I attended in Orlando, Florida, right here on your on Your Website Engineer Podcast, Episode No. 410. Hello and welcome to another episode of Your Website Engineer Podcast. My name is Dustin Hartzler. And today we’re gonna be talking a little bit about WordPress but a lot about the Automattic Grand Meetup. If you are friends with anyone that works at Automattic or you follow them on social media platforms and whatnot, you may have seen a bunch of pictures and different things about what has happened in the last week or so when we were all together in Orlando, Florida. I just wanna give you an overview of what happened, some of the projects we worked on, some of the things that happened, and just what it was like to be at the Grand Meetup.

This is kind of my yearly call to let you know that we’re always hiring. We’re always looking for Happiness engineers or JavaScript Wrangler or folks that are interested in design. If you head on over to automattic.com and click on the work-with-us page, you’ll find all of the open job listings. And, we’re always looking for more people. And, we’re always hiring. If this sounds like something that’s really fun or interesting, I recommend applying to work at Automattic. And, maybe next year, you could be on the Grand Meetup as well. Let’s go ahead and dive right in. There were some news things that happened in the past week. And, the big one came out from Matt Mullenweg on October 2nd. It was the post on WordPress.org about the plan for 5.0. It’s basically been called out that 5.0 is going to release on November 19th. That is the target date. That’s the date that they are shooting for. And, it caused a lot of controversy and stir ups about that’s right around the busy season.

We’re getting real close to the Thanksgiving black Friday sale and Christmas and everything else that website owners like to put on their site on kind of a maintenance mode or just kind of cruise out the rest of the year. The good news is you don’t necessarily have to update to 5.0 right away. The other thing is that it is basically WordPress 4.9.8 with Gutenberg. That’s what they’re gonna call 5.0. It’s just kinda the jumping off point. It’s like the starting gate to just get started with everybody starting to use Gutenberg. And, then, there will be more and more phases of this project as Gutenberg gets rolled out and kind of the thought processes behind Gutenberg gets rolled out to other areas of our WordPress dashboard.

One of the things that lead organizer Gary Pendergast had mentioned in his post about 5.0 – he’s the lead of launching this thing – is basically a plug-in is able to be installed or able to be merged into Core – if you see about 20,000 active installs before the final release date. Gutenberg is bigger because it’s a bigger change. But, already more than half a million sites are using it as a beta test. It meets and exceeds the standards of rolling these Core features into our Core plug-in. There’ll be a link in the show for the post if you wanna read it. That’s what I wanted to share about WordPress 5.0. We will have a release date. And, it sounds like it will happen before WordCamp US. And, it will happen in 2018. So, that’s super exciting. The other piece of news that I wanna share with you is all about WooSesh. And, it is a virtual WooSesh commerce conference in less than two weeks away.

The two-day event will be held on October 18th and 19th. It’s free for all attendees who join the livestream. And, it’s paid for if you want to download the presentations later. It’s put on by Patrick Rauland and Brian Richards. It basically has two days’ worth of content. Some is geared towards developers – that’s more day two. Day one will be a variety of speakers suited for all attendees who work with WooCommerce building stores for clients, designing sites, and developing plug-ins. The head of WooCommerce, Todd Wilkens, will be giving a keynote, along with a couple other folks from the Automattic team. That’s really cool. If you’re interested in learning more about WooCommerce and seeing what WooCommerce is all about, I recommend checking out WooSesh. And, there’ll be a link in the show note so you can check that out as well. Is there a plug-in for that? I wanna talk a little bit about a plug-in called Super Progressive Web Apps.

This is a new technology that combines the convenience or the best of mobile Web and the best of mobile apps to create a superior mobile web experience. They are installed on phones like normal apps and can be accessed from a home screen so users can come back to your website by launching the app on their home screen and interact with your website through an app-like interface. The return visitors will experience almost instant loading times and enjoy the great performance of having a Super Progressive Web App. This is a plug-in that’s got more than 10,000 active installs. If you want to appify or turn your website into an app, this would be a plug-in that I’d recommend checking out. And, you can find the details for it in the link to it right in the show notes for Episode No. 410. Let’s talk about the Grand Meetup and what happened this past weekend.

Like I said, you might have seen a lot of people posting on social media and different things about the activities and things we’re going to do. But, as I was detailing this out, it was a very jam-packed week. It felt less jam-packed for me this year. And, I’ll explain that in just a second. It was a very busy week. There were so many things on the schedule. It was hard to find time to call home and talk to my family for a while each day and whatnot. Let’s go ahead and just kinda dive in day by day. And, I’ll kind of explain some of the things behind the scenes of what happened at the Automattic Grand Meetup. Saturday we all traveled. If you came from international, you could start a day or two early so that you could kind of get adjusted to the time zone. Some of my colleagues that came from South Africa and had 30-plus hours of travel time. It took them a while to get to Orlando from South Africa and to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam over to Orlando.

I had a 90-minute, nonstop flight from Columbus, Ohio all the way down there. It was A- plus, plus. In the past couple years that we’ve went to Canada. And, while it’s been nice to go to a different place, it was super nice to be in the United States where my cellphone worked all the time. And, I didn’t have to worry about a SIM card and all that jazz. I had no problems and got settled into the hotel room. It was great. The entire hotel was kind of reserved for us coming in on Saturday. We really didn’t see any other people other than Automatticians, which was cool. And, we could check into our hotel room even though it was before the normal 3:00 that a hotel allows you to check into. I registered and got some cool swag. We usually get reusable canteen water bottles or Nalgene water bottles. This year, they were the S’well water bottles.

They kept beverages either hot or cold. And, they came in two varieties: a wood-grained effect; and, one was a powder-coated blue. Both of them had the Automattic logo or name on the water bottle. We also got a cool pen that had our wordpress.com username added to it or embossed into it. That was pretty cool. I got my swag, and we registered. By registering, you get the name badge. It’s just a badge you have to wear all week because you’re around 650 people that you’ve never met before. It was really handy to have a name badge on. Each one has our gravatar, so we could see exactly who they were. Oh, I recognize you from your gravatar. That was pretty cool – got back to the room and took a short nap and then went to the opening party, which I thought was gonna be a disaster. It was outside in the Florida heat in the summer…not really in the summer, in the fall. But, it was probably 80 degrees when it started.

When the sun started to go down, it did cool off. We were right around the pool. There were people around the pool. There was food and drinks all around the pool. And, it was just kind of a great way to say hello and kinda catch up with people you haven’t seen in a year or so. I ended up sneaking away pretty early after that. When I got to meetups like this, I typically will go to bed early. This wasn’t the case because there was college football on Saturday night. It was Ohio State versus Penn State at Penn State. I knew it was gonna be a great game. And, it was a nail biter the whole time. Taking that nap earlier allowed me to stay up until almost midnight when that game was over. I’m sure I had colleagues who were up for hours after that. But, that was late enough for me. I watched the Buckeyes win. And, then, I ended up going to bed. Sunday morning there was a welcome by Matt at 9:00 Eastern. He did kind of a welcome.

He had a little thing to say. He kind of talked about the overview of the week, welcoming everybody there. And, it’s pretty typical that Matt does this at the beginning of the day. Sunday is also reserved as team day. We got to spend a lot of time with the 12 people that I work directly with, which was really, really nice. Then, we went to a WooCommerce learnup. I’m on this hybrid team where there’s a couple WooCommerce Happiness engineers. And, everybody else is WordPress.com Happiness engineers. But, we all wanted to learn more about Woo and some of the cool things that are coming for Woo. That was an hour of our time right after Matt’s opening address. Then, as a team, we decided that ice cream was the most important priority. We all headed over to Disney Springs, which is right across the street from the Hilton where we were staying. It was a little bit of a walk.

But, as we walked as a group, we kinda talked with each other and caught up and see how people were. It was just our team of 12 of us. We headed over, and we grabbed some ice cream. It was just in time to come back and have some lunch. One of the things that never happens on the Automattic Grand Meetup is you go hungry. In no case are we ever hungry because there’s dedicated time for breakfast, lunch, a snack, and then dinner. It just seems like we were eating buffets all the time. We threw in extra ice cream on this day. After the ice cream, we went back and a team lunch. All 12 of us sat at the same table. We just continued to further those relationships, learn more about each other and whatnot. Then, we worked on tickets together as a team. As a company, we were trying to make sure that our customers are still getting their support in a decently fast manner. We turned off all live chat. But, we still had the ability to have people send in tickets.

Across the Happiness, we all worked for one hour on tickets. And, we knocked down the ticket down from thousands to just a few hundred, which was really cool. Then, we had a Happiness happy hour. It was just a way that the team leads were able to just let us know how much Happiness engineers are appreciated. We just talked a little bit about look at all of us. There’s almost 300 Happiness engineers now. It filled the room quite a bit. And, we all picked up from there. And, then, we moved right outside again to the hot, sweltering heat of Florida to take the company photo. This is always one that it seems like it takes forever. And I don’t know what happened this year, but within ten minutes, we had the entire photo taken. The individual teams had their photos taken. It actually went really, really smoothly in comparison to other years. That was on Sunday. And, then we had a team dinner.

All of us yet again got in line for another buffet and filled our plates up and had dinner together as a team. I ended up going to bed early that night just because I was up late the night before watching that football game. And, I got ready for the week ahead. On Monday morning, we started off with a keynote by a lady named Cheryl Strayed. She is the author of the No. 1 New York Times bestselling memoir Wild. She’s written a couple other books called Tiny Beautiful Things, Brave Enough, and now Torch. And, she talked about her writing, creativity, and whatnot. That was really nice. The cool thing about this whole Grand Meetup is all of these keynotes. There was a handful of keynotes. The things that Matt said were all livestreamed. For the folks that weren’t able to come or if you wanted to continue to get ready in the morning and not really wake up until a little bit later, you could watch all of it online. It was streamed right from the hotel, which was really nice.

Monday started the projects, the classes, and regular jobs. As part of the Grand Meetup, you go. And you pick one of these things. You can work on a project. We had a bunch of projects that were to build out or fix broken tools or make tools better within Automattic itself. Then, there were classes if you wanted to learn JavaScript or creative writing or the WooCommerce, there was tons of different classes that you could sign up for. Or, you could just do your regular job. As Happiness engineers, you just answered tickets during the few blocks. There was usually three hours of regular work right after the keynotes, before lunch. There was a three-hour window and then lunch and then another three, four, five-hour window, depending on the day. I was in this weird hybrid. I taught a class. But I only taught a one-hour session. I taught that twice, which was within what was called the Happiness Academy. There was five different sessions spread out over three days.

Everybody taught the class a couple times. And, then, people were able to filter in and out. It was primary for brand-new Happiness engineers that hadn’t been to a Grand Meetup yet. It was also open to anybody that wanted to learn a little bit more. I talked about efficiency and conversation control. I talked all about how to use your keyboard more effectively without using the mouse. We also talked about how we can be on the controlling side of LiveChat so we’re not having people that are just pinging us all the time – kinda make sure that everybody is getting their answers at a good pace because we juggle more than one chat at a time when we are talking in LiveChat. That was Monday. We ended up having dinner. Monday started with projects. I didn’t really have anything in the morning. So, I started reworking some things. It’s a project that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time on yourwebsitenegineer.com.

It was to move all of the podcasts into a podcast custom post site and rework my RSS feed so that would work better. There was a few things that I really wanted to do. It’s been on my to-do list forever. And I was like, I’ll get to that. At this Grand Meetup, this is what I’m gonna work on. By lunchtime on Monday, I had most of the code written and tested. Most of it was working just fine. And, it was a matter of continuing to work on it and tweaking it the rest of the week. I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a little bit. Tuesday was very much like Monday. We didn’t have any keynotes in the morning. But, we did have flash talks in the morning. Flash talks are four-minute presentations by any automattician that is brand-new to the company. Back in the day, everybody used to do a flash talk every year. But, as we got to 600 people, we were spending four days just watching flash talks, which wasn’t a really good use of all of our time.

Now it’s reserved for people that are brand-new that have never done a flash talk before. It was the same thing with those three hours in the morning for classes or projects or whatnot. In the afternoon, it was very much the same. I didn’t have to teach or really do anything on Tuesday. I ended up helping one of my colleagues, Richard. He was in charge of the WooCommerce class. I stopped up there and did a few things and helped him with that. I also continued just moving all of my posts into the right custom post site. When you change to a custom post site, they don’t just automatically go. I had to manually move each one of them. And, I needed extra data. In order for the times to be displayed correctly in iTunes or in a podcast catcher, what has to happen is you have to define them. You have to tell your RSS feed how long each episode is.

I ended up having to go in and edit all 409 podcast episodes and change the size of them and the length and specify that for each individual episode. It ended up taking me most of the week to do that. I didn’t get much else done when it comes to some of the projects I wanted to work on. But, that ended up being most of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Tuesday evening was really cool. We had dinner at Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. Somebody had rented out the space. We were in Harry Potter World. It wasn’t the Hogwarts side. It was the other side before you go to Hogwarts. There were free rides and activities for us to do. There was nobody there but the 600 of us, which was really cool. There was food. There was an ice cream place. They had butter beer and Harry Potter type food. That was really cool. It was really neat that we didn’t have to wait in line. You just walked around. It was night, and it wasn’t nearly as hot.

The buses left at 6:30. And, the last bus out was at 10:30 at night. That was on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, we started out with two keynotes with Ari Meisel. He is a bestselling author of Less Doing Something and gave us some tips for being more productive and making sure that we are optimizing our times when we’re on our computer, which was really nice. That was from 9:00 until 10:00. At 10:30, we had Ann Duwoody. She is the former commanding general of one of the Army’s largest commands. She is the newest board member of Automattic. It’s the first time we’ve ever heard her speak. She truly graced us with her time and gave us some really cool things to think about and to reflect on. That was on Wednesday morning. We then continued with the projects’ classes and regular jobs. I was up in my room for a while working on my custom post sites. We had a Happiness lounge.

And that’s where all the Happiness engineers just hung out and worked on tickets. I was down there. I did the Happiness Academy, which was the same class that I taught on Monday. I did it again on Wednesday. The exciting news of the evening was at dinner. Besides team day, dinner and lunches are automatically or randomly assigned. And, how they work is it matches you up with some people you’ve never met and some people that you have met. You never have to pick who you’re gonna eat with because if you do, you would sit with the same people all week. And, you’d never get to meet new colleagues. On Wednesday night, even though I had met him before, I got to have dinner with Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic. There was only four of us at our table. It had been almost five years since I started, and I got to have dinner with Matt. Also, somebody at my table was there for his third week at Automattic, and he got to have dinner with Matt.

It was just a fun little chat that we had with him. We enjoyed dinner and then again off to bed early for me. There was just a couple more days. Thursday and Friday were the two last days that we had at the Grand Meetup. Thursday started with flash talks in the morning. We had office hours in the morning, which was basically kind of all the higher ups like Matt and all the product leads and a bunch of people. If you wanted to, you could schedule 15-minute or 30-minute increments with them and just ask them questions. What do you think about this? How do you think about this? It was just kind of an open spill the beans type of thing so you could learn about the side of the business. Anything you wanted to learn, you could do that from these office hours. I ended up not taking up the opportunity but spending some time with colleagues, working on tickets, and working on my own personal projects. Around 4:30, we started the annual town hall with Matt.

This normally starts at 4:30 this year. We broke at about 7:00 for dinner. It continued from 8:00 on to about 11:30. And, that’s just an open mic forum. We have these really cool throwable mics. You think of 600 people in a room sitting around tables. And, instead of one person running a microphone around to everybody, we have these – they may be a foot-by-a foot squishy cubes that have a microphone in it. And, you just throw them, and people can ask their questions. It’s all recorded. It’s all livestreamed. You can watch it from your room. You can watch it later and whatnot. That was pretty cool. I didn’t stay the whole time. I stayed until dinnertime. I know those things last forever. And, sometimes they talk about things that aren’t really interesting. I’d rather watch it later and while I’m working on something else or doing whatnot. Most of these evenings, I went out for a walk afterwards just because it got a lot cooler. And, I was just able to catch up on some podcasts and just enjoy being outside.

On Friday, we had a keynote started by Dan Harris. He is a co-anchor of ABC News Nightline. He’s a weekend edition of Good Morning America. He’s on both of those. And, he talked about being 10% Happier. That’s his book that he’s written. And, he walked us through a self-guided meditation, which was pretty cool. That was on Friday. There were office hours in the morning. There were project demos in the afternoon. All of these projects that people worked on, there was a three-hour block for all eight teams to go through and show what they’ve built and some of the cool features that were there. It was all livestreamed everywhere. We had the closing party and fireworks at Epcot. It was a cool place. It was instead of Epcot. We had to take in some sort of back entrance. We snuck in. We had to have our name badges on to go. We had dinner and drinks. And, then, the Automattician band performed ten songs.

There was about an hour of songs. It’s basically just people from around the company that wanna play music. They either bring their instrument. Or, there’s instruments that have been rented like drum kits and guitars. They performed and played until about 9:30. It was about 8:30 to 9:30. And, at 9:30, we walked out. We had a private viewing for the laser lightshow and fireworks at Epcot. They had desserts and drinks. I’d say we ate a lot on this trip. There was desserts and drinks everywhere. We had this area. We came back. And, the party continued until 2:00 in the morning. I did an Irish goodbye and just kinda walked out at 11:30 when the bus was ready to leave and just kinda made my way back to the hotel because I didn’t have an early, early flight. But, I wanted to get plenty of sleep. I try to get as much sleep as I can on these types of things because I don’t have any children trying to wake me up.

That’s kind of a selfish desire of my own. I knew that when I got back on Saturday that I was gonna have wake-up duty whenever that kid was up in the middle of the night. That was Friday night. I got up Saturday and did a little walk in the morning. I traveled home. Once we were home, I got the opportunity to spend time with both of my kids in the evening and another couple’s kids. There was five kids that were 4 and under at my house that I was watching for about an hour and a half. Everybody survived, and everything worked really well. That’s a wrap. If you are interested in working at Automattic, like I said, head on over to automatic.com; look at the work-with-us page and find all the positions that we’re hiring for. We’re always looking for talented people who love WordPress and love open source technology and sharing and teaching people what they know about WordPress and other online platforms.

That’s what I wanted to share with you today. Next week, we’ll talk about WordPress. I promise it will deep dive into WordPress something. Until then, take care, and we’ll talk again soon. Bye-bye.