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Eighteen months at Automattic — farewell team Apex

Eighteen months at Automattic — farewell team Apex
During our meetup in Krakow

It's been 18 months now since I joined Automattic, and I've been planning to write about how it is to work at a fully remote company for a while now. But I never got past the first draft.

The reason is that it's very tough to condense it into a blog post. So much has happened these past 18 months that I wouldn't know where to start.

I'm forcing myself to look back since I'll be changing teams tomorrow. Changing teams occasionally is considered quite normal at Automattic, which I think is a good thing to keep things fresh.

Team Apex in Recife, Brazil. Left to right: me, Maciej, Yan, Ivan, Paulo and Juan. André is missing.

When I started at Automattic in September 2022, I was assigned to team Apex. My very first encounter with the team was already quite special. My team-lead then, Yan, visited me in Antwerp, and we went to the zoo to get to know each other. The rest of the team joined virtually via Zoom, which was something the other visitors of the Zoo didn't really seem to have witnessed before 😀

Visiting the Elephants in the Zoo.

I've had so much luck with every team I've had during my working life, and Apex was no different. Despite cultural differences - the team has people from Brazil, Slovakia, Poland, Spain, and Malaysia - it clicked right from the start. Not only professionally, where all of us were complimentary, but most of all on a personal level.

One of my biggest fears when joining Automattic was that working asynchronously wouldn't allow for true human connection, that we'd all just be little robots producing code from home, but I turned out to be very wrong.

A core part of working at Automattic is the meetups. It is expected for every team to meet a couple of times a year. I've had the pleasure of going with these guys to Denver, Tenerife, Krakow, Munich, and Recife - and each was a blast. Combining work, culture, and (tons of) fun really brought the team together.

It also brought me to places that I might have never visited on my own. The Krakow and Recife meetups were led by locals (Maciej from Poland and Paulo and André from Brazil), which brought us to spots off the beaten track.

Professionally, I was asked to lead the Apex team for a few months. This role was a great opportunity to understand my strengths and weaknesses. I found joy in the architectural aspects of leadership, such as breaking down a large project into manageable tasks. However, I also realized that the administrative responsibilities that came with the role were overwhelming and not within my realm of expertise. This led me to the conclusion that I thrive more as an engineer.

One of the many cool things at Automattic is that such role change doesn't come with any extra compensation - so stepping down is easy. It also prevents people from rising to their level of incompetence (The Peter Principle).

During my time with team Apex, we mostly worked on subscriber and subscription management. The two projects I'm most proud of myself are newsletter stats where we store a huge ton of data about sends, opens and clicks of newsletters and present them in a very clean way, and Apple Mapkit integration, which greatly reduced cost compared to the provider we were previously using.

Was it all blue skies? Well, of course not. Working remotely and async has its fair share of advantages, but it also has challenges. Communication is super important, and it's quite easy to misunderstand or misread things, especially without explicit non-verbal communication. This can make situations based on misunderstandings grow into monsters that are way bigger than they should be. Luckily, these things were always resolved with more communication. As Automattic's creed states: communication is oxygen.

Tomorrow will mark my first day at Team Caribou. It's hard to leave behind my old team because I love them all, and I dig the vibe we have in the team. But I'm always curious about what's behind the next corner, so I said yes when the question came. As the proverb goes: change is the only constant in life.

Thank you to an absolutely fantastic team for these past 18 months. I look forward to whatever's on my path in the next eighteen.