5 Lessons I’ve Learned From One Year at Automattic

As of a few days ago, I’ve now been working for Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, for just over a year. It’s hard to believe that just a short time ago, I was ending my trial and starting full-time on a product that I both love and believe in.

I’ve written quite a bit about the trial process and what a day in the life of a Happiness Engineer looks like. But, I haven’t written much about insights working for a distributed company or how I now view customer support. In other words, what I’ve learned over the past year working at Automattic. In no particular order, here are the top five items.

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A Day in the Life of a Happiness Engineer

This week, many of us at Automattic are documenting our day to give everyone an idea of what it’s like to work for an entirely distributed company. If you’re interested in reading more you can follow the tag #a8cday at WordPress.com and on Twitter. Here’s my day as a Happiness Engineer.

Whenever I tell someone I’m a Happiness Engineer, I normally get a blank stare followed by one of two reactions:

  1. The person pretends like they know what that means and no further questions are asked.
  2. A short chuckle ensues with the follow-up question, “So, what does that mean?”

I definitely understand. Before working at Automattic, I had no real idea what a Happiness Engineer might do.

So, what does a Happiness Engineer actually do on a daily basis? The short answer: we do whatever it takes to make the user experience as great as possible at WordPress.com. For those that want more, here’s my complete schedule from October 6th, 2014 to give you an idea of what it’s like to work for a company that is 100% distributed.

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How to Become More Creative

This post was previously published on the Crew blog.

How many uses can you think of for a paperclip in three minutes?

If you’re average, you’ll probably be able to drum up 10 or perhaps 20 different uses. I came up with 11. The somewhat famous paperclip test was created in 1967 by J.P. Guilford as a measure of divergent thinking. It’s part of a group of assessments known as ‘alternative use tests’ which measure creativity.

Incomplete Figure Start

 

The above example shows a common incomplete figure exercise. This test asks users to complete the picture in each window. This is another test of divergent thinking, the more creative you are the more interesting the results tend to be (see below).

Incomplete Figure exercise

 

Creativity is often viewed as something you either have or you don’t. But that’s not entirely true, according to a study completed by Harvard, creativity is 85% a learned skill. That means we can improve. The question is how?

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How to Improve Your Reading Retention on Any Device

This post originally appeared on the Crew blog.

Last Tuesday, after running errands, sitting in traffic, and finishing a normal work day–I still had time to read for nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes. In just one day, I finished nearly half of Essentialism by Greg McKeown. With this kind of speed, my Amazon Wish List would be toast within weeks.

Now comes the confession: I wasn’t actually reading. I was listening. Essentialism was my first audiobook. It felt a bit like cheating, like audiobook listeners couldn’t really call themselves hardcore readers. Another problem? While I easily finished the book, I doubt I remember half of the information.

This led me to explore the science behind reading retention. It’s easy to blame technology for what appears to be our growing lack of retention. But perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking on what we should be reading, we’re much better off solving the issue of retention by asking how we should be reading.

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How to Force Yourself to Improve

This article was republished on Thought Catalog.

Gary Cohn owes his first job on Wall Street to a cab ride1.

Cohn was twenty-two and working as a salesman for U.S. Steel in Cleveland. On one particular day, he found himself in Long Island and decided to venture down to Wall Street. While he was there, he decided he wanted a job.

The only problem? Cohn didn’t know anything about finance.

Since he had no connections on Wall Street and little experience that would qualify him for a job, he couldn’t pursue the ordinary route of handing in a resume. So, he went after a different angle. He stood outside of the commodities exchange until he overheard a well-dressed man catching a taxi to LaGuardia. Without missing a beat, Cohn asked if they could share a cab ride.

This gave Cohn an hour in the car with a higher up in one of the top brokerage firms on Wall Street.

Throughout their conversation, Cohn discovered the firm was entering the options business. However, the higher up didn’t know the first thing about buying or selling an option. He asked Cohn how much he knew.

Malcolm Gladwell recounts Cohn’s response in David and Goliath:

When he said, ‘Do you know what an option is?’ I said, ‘Of course I do, I know everything, I can do anything for you.’

That, of course, was a lie. Cohn knew nothing about options trading. But, he was able to score an interview. He spent the next few days reading books on options trading and landed the job.

Cohn knew the best way to improve is to commit to action before you’re ready.

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