My last day at Automattic

It started with a tweet. WooThemes, a company whose products I’d purchased & used many times before and brand I’d followed for years, were hiring. I’d never really worked for any one company before. I’d never even considered it, having never even looked for a job. But that tweet stood out to me and moments later I fired off an email saying I was interested.

A few weeks went by and after a few interviews, I was in. I still remember that moment when I got the offer and it wasn’t until right then that I realised how much I wanted it.

For years I’d just built my own things, worked in the shadows and gotten by. But in that moment I was given the chance to learn from and work with people I’d admired from afar for years – to become friends with them, to travel with them, to know them – and while I didn’t know it at the time, I needed more than anything.

10855064_10153534022948102_8967646388228094488_o

I look back at that first year at WooThemes and think about what we as a team accomplished and it blows my mind that it was just that – a year. During those 12 months I was fortunate enough to be moved into a full-time developer role, something I’d never imagined I would be paid to do. I got to travel internationally for work several times, help out on countless open-source and paid products, and improve the user experience for our 100,000’s of users.

I remember many years ago while I was learning to code, I saw a tweet from WooThemes about their site redesign. I replied congratulating them but asking why it wasn’t responsive on mobile. They said it was coming soon but wasn’t a priority at the time. Years later, I ended up working on the project to make the site responsive.

The experience I gained over that year at WooThemes was invaluable and only comparable to the year that followed. The year at Automattic.

I remember the night we got the news quite well. My girlfriend and I were travelling around Korea and staying the night in the small historical town of Gyeongju. We’d spent the day walking around the city and I remember a conversation we had about my future of WooThemes. What would I be working on for the rest of the year? What role could I move into next? Where would we meet for the company trip later in the year?

All those questions were answered by the time we got back to the hotel and had internet again. I checked my email before going to bed and froze. We were getting acquired by Automattic. I’d never even considered it as a possibility. I didn’t even believe it at the time – thinking maybe it was some trick they were playing on us or a delayed April Fools joke. But I soon realised it was real, it was happening, and it was a good thing – a very good thing.

17662_10153892570523797_2668541104263455177_n

A week later I was in Chicago with my team, digesting the news together over beers and thinking about our future at Automattic. We were going from 50 people to over 400. What would change? Would we move teams? I suppose you could compare the feeling to that of moving schools. Things were comfortable and predictable before and now everything’s changing. But were they changing for the good?

A month after that I was in Seville, Spain, giving a talk at WordCamp Europe to a 1000 people, many of whom I’d respected and admired for years. And while I’d never given a talk to that many people before, I was far more nervous to meet some of my future Automattic colleagues that were also there for the conference. But there was no need to be nervous. It was love at first sight and I knew the future was bright. The people I would be working with were kind, welcoming and fun. I officially started at Automattic a few days later from an Airbnb in Malaysia.

The last year has been a rollercoaster with far more ups then downs. I somehow managed to meet close to 50% of the company. I got to work with my previous Woo team and several talented newcomers. I think I travelled internationally every month for the past 12 months, flying something like 350,000km. I was fortunate to be given the chance to speak and represent Automattic at several events, especially WooConf where I gave my favourite talk ever.

I look around me and am so grateful to Automattic because almost everything I have is because of them. All the experiences, all the comfort, all the knowledge – directly because of Automattic, WooCommerce and the hundreds of amazing people I got the chance to work with over the last couple years. There’s so many people (100+) I could thank and acknowledge here but I’m confident you all know who you are.

13718593_10157385174625495_5936148571419558741_n

Tomorrow is my last day at Automattic. A few weeks ago I put in my notice and started saying my goodbyes. While it has been a difficult decision to make, it’s the right one for me and I’m grateful to everyone I work with for being so supportive of me even though from the outside I look crazy leaving one of the best companies in the world.

What’s next? I’m going to try build my own product; my own company. It’s going to be challenging and scary but I can’t put into words how excited I am to get started. I want to keep things as a surprise but I will say that it’s an old idea I’ve had for a while and WooCommerce (ecommerce) related. I plan on getting started next week and hope to have a beta/something to share as soon as possible – no matter how many sleepless nights and sore fingers it takes!

If you want to know more, follow me on Twitter and/or sign up to the weekly newsletter I’ve been sending for the past few months, Pivoting.

And to everyone at Automattic and in the WordPress/startup space – thank you.

 

Thoughts on No Man’s Sky

Maybe you were living under a rock the past week and didn’t hear about No Man’s Sky. Or maybe you don’t care. Either way it’s okay. But now that you’re reading this, let me tell you a bit about it and why I think it’s one of the most brilliant games I’ve ever played.

It’s a game set in space. You play alone, flying across galaxies going planet to planet, collecting resources and items while discovering new plants, species and universes.

1434567347-no-mans-sky

Besides the fact that the game is visually stunning, it’s receiving a lot of attention because of how big it is. There are 18 quintillion planets. I don’t even know how many 0’s that is. The creators – the tiny game studio Hello Games – has stated that to visit each and every planet for just 1 second, it would take you over 5 billion years.

There are a lot of conversations currently taking place around the game. Some people love it, some don’t. That’s to be expected. But one common argument I’ve seen the non-lovers use is that while the game is beautiful (it really is), exciting and unique, it lacks focus.

No one can argue that. You play alone, there’s not really a story and probably the scariest part of it all is that the game is so vast; so infinite (like our own universe) that you can never even hope to ever complete the game. To me, this is not a flaw.

As a species we expect everything to have a start and an end. There’s a goal to everything, whether it’s your day, month, year. There’s a time during everything that you can define as the moment of success; of completion. We expect things to be this way because it’s comforting and makes life feel like it has more purpose then it really does.

No Man’s Sky challenges all of this. It takes our expectations and says “fuck that – that’s not real”. It places us in a reality not so different from our own and provides a unique and captivating experience that lets you trade one reality for another.

The most surprising realisation is that with all the games we’ve grown to love, from Call of Duty to Pokemon Go to Grand Theft Auto, the realest game of all to me is No Man’s Sky. It’s both the truest and scariest reflection of the world we live in and a constant reminder that the universe is whole lot bigger than any single one of us.

PS. If you’ve already fallen in love with the art of No Man’s Sky, here’s a bit more of it.

Appreciation by doing

There’s an old saying that pretty much every one knows:

If you could just put yourself in his shoes for a moment, perhaps you would understand why it is not as easy as you seem to think.

But it’s often forgotten or not realised until it’s too late.


I don’t cook very often. In fact, when asked “can you cook?”, I often jokingly reply “I’m pretty good at making toast”. Growing up around chefs and spending years in Asia where a good meal costs less than $2 didn’t help. Also, I’m pretty lazy.

But tonight I cooked something. It doesn’t matter what it was or how it tasted but it did involve more than a toaster and took more than a minute to prepare.

It reminded me how hard cooking is. The simple act of combining several ingredients to make something tasty is really not that simple at all. Much like tech, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

When building an app, combining two services (like Instagram & Twitter) seems easy enough – but there’s an art to making it seem easy, and 100 ways to complete that same task.

Only after years of trial & error, painstaking rewrites and a deep understanding of your art – be it programming, cooking or cleaning – do you become a master.

This is more a reminder to me than anything else. Things always seem easier on the outside (and on the inside). It’s only through doing that thing that you can truly appreciate the finesse and years of experience required to do it well.

The Bot Future

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 10.49.21 AM.png

If you’re hearing the news about Facebook’s new Messenger Platform and all you’re thinking is:

This is just hype. It’s not that big of a deal.

You’re missing the bigger picture. The future of our interaction with technology will be completed automated – and bots will play a big part in getting us there.

The significant thing about Facebook now taking part is the 900 million users they bring to the game.

I get excited thinking about the possible applications of this technology.

Customer service – no longer apprehensive to approach a company – no need for the anxiety that comes with making a complaint.

Learning a language – your own private teacher that is only a message away – can message you throughout the day to help you learn.

Discovery – the effort to find new content and stay up to date with the world will be reduced. Acquiring new information will no longer be an active but passive.


Over the last few years I’ve watched brands adjust to the trend in message-orientated customer service. A company that you once had to interact with my phone is now just a message away.

This isn’t groundbreaking. Email has been around for decades, and it was long ago that the first contact form was introduced. But there’s something special about a message.

Emails and phone calls these days tend to be reserved for work and interactions with businesses (besides for the occasional parent phone call). Messages are intimate. They provide an eternal log of our relationships and conversations – an always-available means to contact friends, not prohibited by time or location or feeling.

Businesses picked up on this. They’re now easily contactable through any social media platform. I’ve started a conversation with a business through tweets and ended up getting a DM (direct message) from them soon after. Recently my home internet cut out so I just sent the business a message through Facebook Messenger on my phone and got it resolved. Months ago, I was trying to find a shop in Melbourne that had a special variety of Thai basil needed to make my favourite Thai dish. I messaged a local Thai grocery’s Facebook page and had a bunch of the basil reserved for me just moments later.

I’m yet to find a reputable and established business that isn’t just a message away. In fact, the only exception seems to be with government organisations and traditionally terrible companies that are no better on the phone.

And yes, while it’s true that messages are more intimate and usually just for friends, I’ll gladly allow a business into that intimate space if it means my problem gets resolved quickly and asynchronously.

But phone calls can still be quicker. And when you have a serious issue, like a missed flight or internet emergency, you suck it up and make the phone call, speak to another human and get your problem fixed. It’s awkward and time-consuming and exhausting but sometimes it’s the better choice, purely because it doesn’t involve waiting for your message to be replied to.

So the fact that there is now a means for developers to automate messages – to eliminate the one thing that was keeping phone support alive – is exciting.


Good bots won’t try to be magical interpreters of user will and intent. They’ll listen, ask questions with structured answers and evolve naturally.

An example of this is the interaction here between Danny and the 1800 Flowers bot. The bot doesn’t try to be intelligent and have a conversation with Danny. It determines what he wants, gets the answers it needs by asking simple questions and uses predictable buttons to get user choices.

We’re on the brink of a bot revolution. The bot future won’t be obvious. It’ll slowly creep up on us and steadily improve every business interaction we have. But once it’s here, you won’t want to go back.

Code & Jazz

For me, programming is a lot like jazz, and writing a good app, program, function, is like writing a good jazz piece.

In some jazz pieces, there’ll be several instruments played simultaneously, each on their own path, each with their own tone, own focus, all taking a different approach to the same beat, same goal, eventually ending up together in the same place.

Programming seems to be the same. There are several parts of every app that get built simultaneously, be it the frontend or API, structure or architecture, each contributing in their own way – some taking the lead at times while others are there as support, eventually ending up together in the same place.

Full Time Developer

Today’s a pretty exciting day for me.

Just under 9 months ago, I joined WooThemes as a WooCommerce support ninja. It was an exciting and nervous time. I’d never done full-time work for anyone but myself before, but I was ready for the challenge and excited to be a part of something (much) bigger than my own ideas and aspirations.

When I started, I was a mediocre developer at best. I’d released several plugins, all of which worked but none of which were amazing. The code I write today is still not the best it could be. I’m only as good as my last commit. But I’m getting better. And I can confidently say that I would not be where I was today if it wasn’t for the last 9 months doing support.

I was given a unique opportunity to help grow WooCommerce exponentially, at the ground floor, interacting with the users that matter the most, solving the problems that hurt us the most and learning things that would impact me the most. I proudly built 5 official extensions in that time, got the chance to do bug fixes and add features to pretty much all of the extensions I supported, and happily contributed to WooCommerce itself many times, even making it into the top contributors for 2.3.

But more importantly, I learnt. A lot. And now, thanks to Warren & Gerhard at Woo, I’ll get to keep learning and have the chance to push myself further in a new role as a developer on our WooThemes.com team.

I’ve always been interested in the product side of things, but I’m far more excited about the impact I will get to have in this position. Rather than my impact being measured in the thousands of users, it will measured in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. I can’t wait to get started.

I’m Too Comfortable

When you first start developing, writing code or just creating your first product, it’s really hard. I don’t think people mention it enough. Mostly because no one listens to those just starting out and when you start to become a respected developer, it doesn’t make you sound too good when you admit it’s hard.

I want to be honest and transparent. And everyday, I get better. With almost everything in life, as you continue to do it day-by-day, you almost certainly get better. On a daily basis. Literally infinite exponential growth. So that means, I’m a better developer today than I was a year ago. I’m a better developer today than I was 3 months ago. I’m even a better developer today than I was yesterday.

Even on your worst day, you are a better developer than you have ever been.

But everyday, I get more comfortable. And as I start to feel more comfortable in my developer shoes, I get scared. Scared that I won’t learn anything new. Scared that I’ve hit my peak.

I’ve spent the last couple years developing for WordPress. I still have a lot to learn. Really, I do. But I feel quite confident that when it comes to building something with or for WordPress, I either already know how to do it or can quickly figure out how to do it. And then I can execute. That’s the important part. Actually doing what needs to be done.

That’s it. When it comes to WordPress, I’m comfortable. But when it comes to newer technologies and frameworks like Node.js, Laravel & RoR, I’m gasping for air. And as I start to dip my feet into these different frameworks, some which use languages I’m comfortable with (Laravel), whilst others are completely new (Ruby / Python), I realise how little I truly know.

And I struggle. I start to question myself. I’m as far from comfortable as I’ve ever been. But it’s okay, I think.

WordPress will always be there. When something needs to get done quickly; when I need to step back into my comfort zone, I can always use WordPress. It may not be right for everything, but I can make it work, and I can make it work fast – and time is key.

What I find difficult in these new technologies will eventually make sense. Everything does. When I first wrote something in PHP, it was the hardest day of my ‘developer-life’. But it got easier. I can also take this newfound knowledge and put it back into the things I do on a daily basis with WordPress.

There’s nothing to lose. Learning new stuff is fun, because really, you don’t stand to lose much. I may never create an app using Laravel, but no one will ever discredit me for having taken the time and initiative to try.

Every day, I will get more comfortable. Every day, you get more comfortable.

Tomorrow will always be my best day.

Tomorrow will always be your best day.

Version Freedom

I was sitting in a bar the other night, listing to some live music and having a beer, when it hit me. We (software developers) are really quite lucky. In most cases, we have the luxury of sending out bug fixes and updates without much thought. Sure, there is often some inconvenience to the user that I touched on in my post about ‘the software update problem‘, but for the most part, you’re just improving an existing product so rarely people will complain.

But other ‘artists’ or ‘product creators’, don’t really have the same freedom. As I sat in that bar and heard this guy performing, it hit me – a musician only gets to publish a song once. Sure, they can perform it live differently, but really, when a song is published along with it’s music video, it’s stuck that way. The musician may later realise that a couple of the lyrics don’t really make sense or a specific chorus may sound better using a different chord, but by then it’s too late.

They don’t get a second chance.

It’s the same for most other artists. A painter only gets to finish their painting once. A writer or poet may get to publish multiple editions of their book but for the most part, not much will change.

This makes for quite a lot of pressure on the creator. Can you imagine only being allowed to publish your website just the once? Even if you had the same freedom as the writer and were allowed to push out a ‘revised edition’ once every couple years, it’d still be logistical nightmare.

Software is different. Software provides the freedom to iterate and improve everything we do. To take risks and later pivot in a completely different direction and reimagine our primary focus.

So remember that next time you’re listing to a song or admiring a painting. They managed to get it right the first time – while you get the chance to fix it, forever.

How I Built Nomad SMS in 3 Days

Jeju-island-in-korea-beauty

Everything good starts with a problem. Last Friday, I had one. I couldn’t receive an SMS from my bank in Australia, due to my choice to live, travel and work overseas.

It was infuriating. But then I thought: Surely I’m not the only person with this problem? There must be other poor nomads suffering like me.

I tweeted about it:

And I found out that most other nomads felt my pain.

When faced with an obvious problem shared by many, what should you do? Fix it.

Continue reading

The January Commit

December was tiring. Several of us WooThemes ninjas spent the month writing a blog post, every single day, just for the sake of it. But it was fun. It pushed us to hit the publish button, produce more content and improve our writing.

But that’s over. Now it’s time to really push ourselves. This isn’t a kids game anymore.

Welcome to The January Commit, a 31 day challenge demanding each participant makes at least 1 commit on GitHub daily throughout January.

Continue reading