I first met Lori McLeese at the speakers’ dinner for WordCamp Montreal in 2013. We spent a fair bit of time that evening talking about the culture at Automattic. Not only had Lori traveled to Montreal for WordCamp but she was staying afterwards to attend one of the team meetings, or working sessions, that was happening in the city right after WordCamp. She also (unfortunately for her) sat through my session that weekend. So when I emailed her to ask if she would answer a few questions she willing agreed. She also provided some background info on the hiring process at Automattic.
The hiring process
Every resume and application is screened by Matt Mullenweg and then passed along to the appropriate hiring council (engineers, support, and designers), who will then conduct an initial interview, if appropriate.
After the initial interview, applicants are asked to do a coding test, or to provide a portfolio of their work. And if they pass that stage of the process, they are offered a position on a trial basis, which can last from two to five weeks. It’s a paid trial at a fixed rate, regardless of the position. It is designed to be done while the candidate is working their regular full-time job. If the candidate passes the trial project, then the trial lead recommends the candidate back to Matt, who then conducts a final interview via Skype.
Working at Automattic
Other than working on software that powers 23% of the Internet (which is an amazingly high number for a single piece of software in case you weren’t impressed by that piece of information), Automattic offers several unconventional perks:
- Open Vacation Policy: This means no set number of vacation days. Employees are encouraged to take time off to take vacations, or to develop interests, and spend time with family and friends.
- Distributed Work Environment: While headquartered in San Francisco, Automattic utilizes a “distributed” workforce, meaning its employees are located all over the globe and are free to work from wherever they choose. The emphasis isn’t on being in a specific desk in a specific building but on getting the work done in an environment that makes the employee happy and willing to put in the effort to make the product great.
- If you decide to work from home, you get a stipend as well as a co-working office allowance.
- Automattic also provides or reimburses all hardware and software you’ll need, as well as books or conferences that promote continued learning.
Interview with Lori McLeese
As the HR Lead at Automattic, Lori’s team gets brought into the hiring process once a candidate has been offered a trial project or a full-time position. So the questions she was able to answer were more along the lines of the culture and her extensive history of coding.
Al: How did you end up at Automattic?
Lori: I was introduced to Toni Schneider (former CEO) by a mutual friend. We had coffee and chatted about what Automattic was looking for. I was excited by what he shared and continued interviewing with others in the company. What really sold me on Automattic was when I interviewed with Matt and he said he was looking for someone to focus on employees and make Automattic the best place they had ever worked.
Al: Any previous tech skills?
Lori: I started blogging in 2001 with Blogger. I used FrontPage, Dreamweaver, and Photoshop in previous jobs.
Al: How are you PHP chops?
Al: In a lot of companies HR is responsible for setting and maintaining the culture. Does that fall to you your team and how do you manage that?
Lori: The culture at Automattic is influenced and maintained by every Automattician hired. This creed influences our decisions:
I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.
I’ve spoken to many people who work at Automattic , and they all say the same thing: if you want to get the experience to get noticed and have a good shot at getting hired spend some time in the forums, https://en-ca.wordpress.org/support/.
And the other thing I can tell you about people who work at Automattic is that not once have I heard anyone say it was just an okay job that pays the bills. They are emphatic in their enthusiasm for the company, which in my experience is the best recruiting tool a company can have.
When not at his day job in the hosting industry, Al teaches WordPress at a Toronto, Ontario college and also does corporate WordPress training. As a freelance web developer, he is always busy building sites on the WordPress platform. All this leaves him very little time to ride his Harley and watch NFL football.